Tag Archives: family travel

We’re on Vacation! Great Ideas for Families to Get Out, Go & Do this Summer

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Travel ignites curiosity, lays the foundation for learning, opens minds and hearts, forges bonds and builds lifelong memories. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s officially the start of the summer family vacation season! Getting out and experiencing things first hand is the best way to cultivate learning, open minds and hearts. Travel experiences engage children, forge bonds and build lifelong memories. Here are some “get out there and do it” summer family vacation ideas:

Family Adventures

Looking for adventure, for discovery, for immersion in culture, heritage or the natural world? Many of the most respected ecotourism and adventure operators offer special itineraries tailored for families:

While on safari to see tigers, visiting a school in Kahna, India. “The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we take for granted.” Wildplanet has a family-focused program to India. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wild Planet Adventures has family-focused departures in Costa Rica, Africa, Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Laos, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Thailand and Zambia. “If your kid lives for Animal Planet, then their eyes will light up when you bring them to visit the same world famous Sloth Sanctuary they saw on the Discovery Channel, where baby sloths are being fed with an eye-dropper at their breakfast table. They’ll go crazy for our hands-on wildlife rescue center in Costa Rica, our treehouses, ziplines, tiger sanctuary and floating aqua-lodge in Thailand, the penguins and mating and courtship rituals of the wildlife in the Galapagos, and the cowboy adventure activities in Brazil’s Pantanal, culminating with sightings of jaguars. The mix of wildlife and cultural experiences in India is particularly suited to parents who want to ignite their family’s passion to make a difference in the world. It will instill a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, for the opportunities we have, and for the things we take for granted.” Wild Planet customizes family departures with a minimum of 4 travelers and often puts families with similar age kids together on the same trip which means new friends for the kids. (800-990-4376, www.wildplanetadventures.com/family-trips)

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Austin Adventures is offering 40 family adventures across the globe, among them itineraries to the most popular national parks including Grand Canyon, Alaska-Kenai Fjords National Park, Bryce & Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Glacier, the Black Hills of South Dakota (Mount Rushmore), and Banff to Jasper national parks (austinadventures.com, 800-575-1540). To assist in vacation planning, Austin Adventures also offers a free Insider’s Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Adventure (www.austinadventures.com/free-family-travel-guide/).

National Geographic Family Journeys, in partnership with G Adventures, is a new line of small-group trips designed for adventurous, multigenerational families in search of a meaningful way to discover the world together. Each itinerary features interactive activities inspired by National Geographic’s expertise in photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, and history to encourage kids and adults alike to connect with the world around them. Among the destinations: Alaska, Costa Rica, National Parks, Japan, Southern Africa, Tanzania: A Serengeti Safari, France, Iceland, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Vietnam to Cambodia. (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/trip-types/family-journeys)

Gullfoss, Iceland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smithsonian Family Journeys by Perillo’s Learning Journeys has created a series of multi-generational itineraries, including Discover Japan (meet students of anime), Iceland Explorer, Exploring London and Paris (take a scavenger hunt through the Louvre) and Discover Ireland (learn to speak Gaelic). (Visit https://www.learningjourneys.com/family-journeys/smithsonian, 855-215-8691; Perillo’s Learning Journeys, www.learningjourneys.com, 888-884-8259; www.SmithsonianJourneys.org).

Thomson Family Adventures, Watertown, MA, has new family itineraries in Iceland, Scotland, Morocco, Brazil, Egypt and Vietnam (familyadventures.com, 800-262-6255).

Wildland Adventures, Seattle, WA, offers specially tailored family adventures to South America, Asia, Central America, Mediterranean, North America, as well as Africa family safaris (www.wildland.com/travel-styles/family-travel, 800-345-4453)

Bike Tours

Biketours.com, Chattanooga, TN which specializes in Europe, has recommended itineraries for families; I can personally recommend the Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, which I did with my sons – one of the best trips of my life. You can do it as a self-guided tour – it is very easy to follow, and that gives you more control over your schedule, as well as excellent value. BikeTours.com also offers an itinerary specially tailored for families with children (1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37377, 877-462-2423, 423-756-8907, info@biketours.com, www.biketours.com/family-friendly).

The Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, is an ideal self-guided bike tour for a family with older children © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Backroads, Berkeley, CA, features active family adventures (biking, walking, hiking, multi-sport) by age category: Families with Older Teens & 20s (17+), Teens & Kids (9-19) or Younger Kids (8 and under).  (800-462-2848, www.backroads.com/award-winning-tours/all-family)

Trek Travel has family itineraries that include biking, hiking, kayaking and ziplining in places like Zion National Park, the San Juan Islands, Vermont and Prague-to-Vienna. (866.464.8735, https://trektravel.com/trip-type/family/)

Bicycle Adventures has a family biking trip to Mount Rushmore http://bicycleadventures.com/tours/family-bike-tours

Parks & Trails NY’s annual Cycle the Erie eight-day 400-mile Buffalo to Albany bike ride and camping trip on the Erie Canalway is ideal for families © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We  have also recommended outstanding biketours close to home that do good while giving everybody a fantastic experience: Parks & Trails NY offers its annual 8-day 400-mile Cycle the Erie camping and biking adventure (400 miles and 400 years of history!) that draws families of all configurations (grandparents with grandchildren, multi-generations, father-daughter, mother-son) and ages, some with tiny tots in tow, as well as self-pedalers as young as 10 years old. A major highlight is camping out at Fort Stanwix, Rome NY, an 18th century living-history experience. This year’s trip is July 7-14 (518-434-1583, www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour)

Camping

Camping has really changed over time, frequently offering a range of experiences from rustic adventures to resort-style all in the same venue. Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, makes it easy to find camping resorts by destination, amenities and programming (www.koa.com/Campgrounds). We have a personal favorite: the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA is a true camping resort, set along a creek (tubing, fishing) and close by the Erie Canal (cruises, biking), and most unique of all, a chance to mine for Herkimer diamonds! The Herkimer KOA offers unbelievably delightful themed cabins (would you believe a cabin with its own star observatory?), fabulous activities. Choose a cabin, cottage or RV or tent site. (Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, www.herkimerdiamond.com.)

A family gathers around a campfire at Herkimer Diamond KOA, where the extraordinary amenities include mining for “diamonds”, cruising on the Erie Canal, and staying in a themed cabin with its own stars observatory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most intriguing in my book is the full-service Lion Country Safari’s award winning KOA campground located adjacent to the 320 acre drive through wild animal preserve and theme park, yet secluded enough for a restful campout (though you are apt to hear the lions roaring), offering RV sites, tent sites and rustic cabins (www.lioncountrysafari.com/koa/, 561-793-1084).

Dude Ranches

One of the best family experiences (a nonstop giggle) is on a dude ranch. New York State actually has several of them, such as Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, Hudson Valley, (845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com), which has been delighting generations of families with its all-inclusive fun (meals, entertainment, activities and riding). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (the new owners of the venerable Pinegrove Ranch), 30 Cherrytown Rd, Kerhonkson, NY 12446-2148, 866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com). Ridin’ Hy, an absolutely delightful guest ranch in the Adirondack State Park, near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com.

But if you want your cowboy hat to really mean something, go where you can be a cowpoke for a spell, here are other suggestions from Gene Kilgore, publisher of  www.top50ranches.comwww.ranchweb.com and www.ranchvacations.com.

Rankin Ranch, California.

In the Canadian Rockies, Three Bars Guest and Cattle Ranch (www.top50ranches.com/ranch-vacations/three-bars-ranch); California’s Rankin Ranch has run cattle at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range since 1863 (https://ranchweb.com/tour/bill-rankin/); Colorado’s Lost Valley Ranch in the front range of the Rockies (https://ranchweb.com/tour/lost-valley-ranch/); Montana’s Nine Quarter Circle Ranch  (https://ranchweb.com/?s=quarter+circle); Wyoming’s Paradise Ranch in the Big Horn Mountains has been a dude ranch since 1907 (https://www.top50ranches.com/ranch-vacations/paradise-ranch).

Check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association members (www.coloradoranch.com, 866-942-3472), like the luxurious C Lazy U Ranch which since 1919 has provided highest level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, first-class amenities, enriching children’s programs, gourmet meals and upscale accommodations; or the Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, which opened in 1912 and considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado, is also ideally located just southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park and nestled in a peaceful valley along the Colorado River.

Resorts with a Twist

Brothers bonding over marshmellows roasting over a campfire during a moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sebasco Harbor Resort, Mid-Coast, Maine: This resort (“Pure Maine”) manages to be a delightful cross between fine resort and a camp, with plenty of opportunity to be outdoors, while still enjoying such refinements as golf, full-service waterfront Fairwinds Spa, plus marvelous activities like kayaking (do the moonlight kayak trip, it is beyond fabulous), boating. Actually, you can imagine Sebasco being the kind of “camp” that the Gilded Age moguls would have for one of their holiday homes. Nestled among whispering pines on the rugged coast Sebasco spans 550 acres with breathtaking views and a wealth of activities the entire family can enjoy. We stayed in the converted Lighthouse for the most magical experience. Check out special deals. (Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Rd., Sebasco Estates, ME, 04565, 877-389-1161, www.sebasco.com).

Among our favorite grand, historic resorts for families for facilities, activities programs, destination, sense of heritage and “place,” and overall aahhh experience:

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., grand historic resort on the shore of Lake Champlain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont on 700 acres of Lake Champlain shoreline is about the best family-friendly luxury resort you can imagine. Just about every activity you would want is on hand: golf, hiking, biking, kayaking, cruises on Lake Champlain, fishing, watersports, tennis, outdoor pool children’s activities program (4800 Basin Harbor Road Vergennes, VT 05491 info@basinharbor.com, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com).

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, tucked in a Courier & Ives landscape in Chittenden, Vermont, near Killington, has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It offers just about every outdoors activity you can imagine, even an equestrian center, private lakeside beach, children’s adventure camp, tennis, disc golf, clay-bird shooting, and hiking, biking, golf nearby. (195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com)

A real novelty in historic hotels (and a fantastic city to visit) is the Choo Choo Train Hotel in Chattanooga, TN, where you actually stay in a historic train car (motel rooms also available), and the station is the restaurant and lobby. So fun! (1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 423-266-5000, 800-Track29, choochoo.com)

Mohonk Mountain House, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other favorites: Mohonk Mountain House (gorgeous setting, water sports, horseback riding, fantastic hiking, climbing, Victorian elegance); Equinox, Manchester, Vt. (all sports including falcon training, world-class spa,); The Sagamore, Bolton Landing on Lake George NY (Gilded Age ambiance); The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania (added benefit: proximity to Hershey theme park); Cranwell Resorts, Spa and Golf Club, Lenox, MA (proximity to all the culture of Lenox, including Tanglewood, plus historic sites like Melville’s home, Arrowwood);The Boulders, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania. (Many more ideas at historichotels.org, 800-678-8946.)

Also, many of the mountain resorts known for skiing transform into summer destinations with mountain biking, hiking, ziplines, children’s activity programs and scores of outdoor pursuits, and significantly, typically offer great rates and package deals for summer: Smugglers Notch  is renowned for having the best children and family activities program anywhere, smuggs.com); Stowe, Vt. (stowe.com), famous for its Topnotch Resort (find specials at www.topnotchresort.com/packages-specials); Hunter Mountain (huntermtn.com); the Vail resorts (www.snow.com/info/lodging-sale.aspx).

Nighttime hike at Tenaya Lodge, a full-service luxury resort hotel in the wilderness just outside the entrance to Yosemite national Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you lucky enough to be visiting Yosemite National Park? You couldn’t ask for a more spectacular accommodation than Tenaya Lodge, a full-service luxury resort hotel, closest to entrance to the park, now offering guests to receive a free 7-Day Yosemite Park Pass and up to 25% off select activities at the time of booking. (My Yosemite Offer valid through Sept. 21, 2019, based on availability, 866-467-0874, use Promo Code: MYYOSEMITE, TenayaLodge.com).

Cruising

Cruising is always a great choice for families – a way to see lots of different places with minimal hassle. Best itineraries (and cruiselines that have best family programs) are to Alaska, the Galapagos (really a favorite for grandparents to take their grandkids). I would also suggest Bermuda as a fantastic cruising destination, easy to reach from the New York metro area, that is so rich in culture, history and nature (beaches!) (Royal Caribbean sails from Bayonne; Norwegian from New York)

For those who want a floating resort with rock walls, ropes course, ziplines, glitzy Broadway and Las Vegas-style entertainment and great supervised children’s activity programs, the most acclaimed lines are Royal Caribbean; Norwegian Cruise Line; Carnival Cruise Line; Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. (See more at www.cruisecritic.com; booking help at cruisecompete.com).

Helping hoist the sales on the Victory Chimes one of the historic Maine Windjammers fleet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But here is a novel choice: Maine Windjammer Cruises – these are historic sailing vessels repurposed for passengers, that ply the waters around Rockland and Camden, Maine in the Penobscot Bay. The experience is more rustic (part of the fun!), where passengers can help raise and lower sails, even steer, help serve and gather plates for meals served in the galley or on deck. You can even choose to sleep out under the stars instead of in the cabin, which is outfitted more like you would expect of summer camp, with bunk beds and shared bathroom facilities (hot showers are available). All the cruises typically include a lobster bake on a secluded beach.

Many of the cruises have special-interest themes, and some are very dramatic that include a Schooner Gam, where all the historic schooners gather in one place and tie up and passengers can go and visit; there is also an annual Schooner Race which is tremendous fun. Visit the Maine Windjammer Association for a list of the eight ships in the fleet and description of age-appropriate sailings (usually 10 years old) and themed cruises (music, storytelling, whaling, wellness, seamanship, among them). In the past, we have sailed on the Victory Chimes (the largest in the fleet) and the American Eagle (www.sailmainecoast.com, 800-807-9463).

One of the Mid-Lakes Navigation Canalboats, like a floating RV, affords a unique way to explore the canaltowns along the Erie Canal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Another novel experience is renting a canalboat on the Erie Canal (like a floating RV), tying up where whimsy takes you and exploring the canaltowns on foot and by bike on the tow-path that has been turned into a bikeway. It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, and terrific fun to go through the locks, and have the bridges lift just for you. Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles, has these specially designed Lockmaster canalboats that are easy to maneuver, very comfortable, and oh so charming. (800-545-4318, info@midlakesnav.com, midlakesnav.com).

Attractions with Living History, Immersive Experiences

Trying his hand at blacksmithing Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, NH, a living history museum that shows 400 years of village life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more living history (and theme parks and golf and spa to boot! Colonial Williamsburg (www.colonialwilliamsburg.com), with the option to stay at The Williamsburg Inn or Williamsburg Lodge and Colonial Houses (historichotels.org); Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (historyisfun.org); Philadelphia (www.visitphilly.org); Newport, RI (www.discovernewport.org); Old Sturbridge Village, MA (www.osv.org), and Portsmouth, NH to experience the Strawbery Banke Museum (www.strawberybanke.org).

And what about immersing in today’s headlines?  One of the best family destinations in the world is the nation’s capital, Washington DC, where you can visit the Capital, the National Archives, Museums of the Smithsonian Institution (19 of them) including the National Air & Space Museum, Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution Building (the castle), the National Zoological Park (National Zoo); as well as private museums including the Newseum and International Spy Museum. Plan a visit at Washington.org.

A hands-on visit to a research institution like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not just life-enriching but can be life-changing © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for theme parks, zoos, aquariums and research centers: consider different experiences that give insider access: Be a zookeeper for a day at Busch Gardens Tampa (which in addition to being a superb themepark is a fantastic zoo, https://buschgardens.com/tampa/tours/keeper-for-a-day/); go behind-the-scenes at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of “Dolphin’s Tale” (https://www.seewinter.com/visit/activities/behind-the-scenes/); have a sleepover (“Snore & Roar”) at the National Zoo, Washington DC (https://nationalzoo.si.edu/events/snore-roar-sleepovers-families) or the Palm Beach Zoo, which also offers camp programs.

Some of our favorite themeparks: DisneyWorld (Orlando), Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Orlando), Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg, Hersheypark.

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Holiday Travel Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

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

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

Christmas in the Capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Newport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

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

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

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Potpourri of Summer Family Vacation Choices to Get You Outside, Together

Nothing builds brotherly bonds like roasting marshmallows over a campfire during a moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman, Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s officially the start of the summer family vacation season! It is widely known that getting out and experiencing things first hand is the best way to cultivate learning. The experiences also engage children, forge bonds and provide lifelong memories. Here are “get out there and do it” summer family vacation ideas.

Looking for adventure, for discovery, for immersion in culture, heritage or the natural world? Many of the most respected ecotourism operators offer special itineraries tailored for families:

Smithsonian Family Journeys by Perillo’s Learning Journeys has created a series of multi-generational itineraries, including Discover Japan (meet students of anime), Iceland Explorer, Exploring London and Paris (take a scavenger hunt through the Louvre), and Discover Ireland (learn to speak Gaelic). (Visit https://www.learningjourneys.com/family-journeys/smithsonian, 855-215-8691; Perillo’s Learning Journeys, www.learningjourneys.com, 888-884-8259; www.SmithsonianJourneys.org).

Wild Women Expeditions’ globe-spanning roster of women-only itineraries also beckons adventurous mothers to join their daughters on journeys into the wilderness that can re-cement relationships. One adventure just for moms and girls ages 10 to 16 is on horseback in Iceland. The other for moms and daughters ages 8 to 13 is closer to home in canoes on a lake in Canada. (888-993-1222, info@wildwomenexpeditions.comhttps://wildwomenexpeditions.com/).

Wild Planet Adventures has family-focused departures in Costa Rica, Africa, Borneo, Brazil, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Laos, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Thailand and Zambia (800-990-4376, www.wildplanetadventures.com, email trips@wildplanetadventures.com.

Other adventure operators that offer family-focused trips:

Thomson Family Adventures, Watertown, MA, familyadventures.com, 800-262-6255

Backroads, Berkeley, CA, backroads.com, 800-462-2848
Austin Adventures, Billings, austinadventures.com, 800-575-1540
Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic
, New York, NY, 800-EXPEDITION, expeditions.com

Wildland Adventures, Seattle, WA, wildland.com, 800-345-4453

Kids-Friendly Walking Tours: Perhaps you are exploring roots or your heritage in a foreign country. Context Travel, which specializes in walking tours, has designed programs specifically for families with interactive experiences: a private tennis lesson on Henry VIII’s court in London; turn the whole family into samurais for the day in Kyoto; sweet immersion into French food in Paris; go underground to the forgotten streets and houses buried under Rome. Family walks also are available in cities across Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. Context also can create a custom family tour in the 37 cities where it offers programs across the globe. Contact info@contexttravel.com, 800.691.6036, www.contexttravel.com.

Danube Bike Trail is one of the best bike tours to take with kids © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bike Tours: Biketours.com which specializes in Europe has recommended itineraries for families; I can personally recommend the Danube Bike Trail, Passau to Vienna, which I did with my sons – one of the best trips of my life. You can do it as a self-guided tour – it is very easy to follow, and that gives you more control over your schedule, as well as excellent value. BikeTours.com also offers an itinerary specially tailored for families with children (1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37377 ,877-462-2423, 423-756-8907, info@biketours.com, biketours.com).

We’ve also recommended outstanding biketours close at home that do good while giving everybody a great time: Parks & Trails NY, which offers the annual 8-day 400-mile Cycle the Erie ride, which is a camping and biking adventure that draws families with tiny tots in tow, as well as self-pedalers as young as 10 years old. A major highlight is camping out at Fort Stanwix, Rome NY, an 18th century living-history experience. (Parks & Trails New York at 518-434-1583 or visit www.ptny.org).

Three generations of the Parsegian family bike the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Similarly Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (202-974-5150, Railstotrails.orgTrailLink.com) sponsors an annual Sojourn supported biketour that showcases bikeways that have been converted from old rail lines; their  annual ride is organized by Wilderness Voyageurs, which offers Ride the GAP trips with bed-and-breakfast accommodations (they portage luggage from inn to inn), as well as a full catalog of guided bike tours that includes Colorado; Missouri’s Katy Trail; Idaho’s Hiawatha & Coeur D’Alene; South Dakota’s Mickelson & the Badlands; the Erie Canal, Finger Lakes, and Adirondacks in New York; Shenandoah and the Civil War; Gettysburg & the Civil War; Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay; Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP & C&O; Pennsylvania’s Amish Country; Kentucky’s Bike & Bourbon; Georgia’s Gold Coast; and a biking trip in Cuba. (855-550-7705, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com)

Camping: Camping has really changed over time, frequently offering a range of experiences from rustic adventures to resort-style all in the same venue. Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, makes it easy to find camping resorts by destination, amenities and programming (www.KOA.com). We have a personal favorite: the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA is a true camping resort, set along a creek (tubing, fishing) and close by the Erie Canal (cruises, biking), and most unique of all, a chance to mine for Herkimer diamonds! The Herkimer KOA offers unbelievably delightful themed cabins (would you believe a cabin with its own planetarium?), fabulous activities. Choose a cabin, cottage or RV or tent site. (Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, E-mail: hdmkoa@ntcnet.comwww.herkimerdiamond.com; mining info at 315-717-0175,diamonds@ntcnet.com.)

Family gathers around a fire pit at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, a camping resort with themed cabins and a quarry where you can mine for diamond-like quartz © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most intriguing in my book is the full-service Lion Country Safari’s award winning KOA campground located adjacent to a 320 acre drive through wild animal preserve and theme park, yet secluded enough for a restful campout (though you are apt to hear the lions roaring), offering RV sites, tent sites and rustic cabins (http://www.lioncountrysafari.com/koa/, 561-793-1084).

Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, opened for its second season with a roster of curated new experiences, custom designed glamping accommodations and engaging programming, Kids Camp and entertainment for every level and style of camper – from RVers and traditional tent campers to glampers. (277 Mills Road, Kennebunkport, Maine 04046, 207-967-2483, www.sandypinescamping.com)

Point Sebago is a resort spanning 775-acres on the shore of Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine. It has its roots as a campground, but while there are still 100 RV, travel trailer and tent sites available, it is a well-equipped resort affording small two-bedroom cabins, with a mile of sandy beach, an 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course that is hailed as one of the finest in Maine. There is a full activities program for kids and families – like a summer camp – with camp counselors, mini-golf, arts and crafts, kayaking, canoe races, boat rentals, fishing, swimming, sand volleyball, shuffleboard, golf, tennis, basketball, games, happy hours with entertainment and free hors d’oeuvres, nightly entertainment for families and adults, dancing, shows, and s’mores by the campfire, free wireless internet access. Also, great bass and landlocked salmon fishing. The resort is next to Maine State Park at Sebago Park where there are hiking trails. (Point Sebago, 261 Point Sebago Road, Route 302, Casco, ME 04015, 800-530-1555, 207-655-3821,info@pointsebago.com. 

Stay in a Dude Ranch – One of the best family experiences is on a dude ranch. New York State actually has several of them, such as Rocking Horse Ranch Resort, Highland, Hudson Valley, (845-691-2927, www.rockinghorseranch.com), which has been delighting generations of families with its all-inclusive fun (meals, entertainment, activities and riding). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (the new owners of the venerable Pinegrove Ranch), 30 Cherrytown Rd, Kerhonkson, NY 12446-2148, 866-600-0859, www.pineridgeduderanch.com, reservations @pineridgeduderanch.com). Ridin’ Hy, an absolutely delightful guest ranch in the Adirondack State Park, near Lake George, Warrensburg, NY, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 518-494-2742, www.ridinhy.com. 

Further afield, check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association members (www.coloradoranch.com, 866-942-3472), like the luxurious C Lazy U Ranch which since 1919 has provided highest level of personalized service, professional horsemanship programs, first-class amenities, enriching children’s programs, gourmet meals and upscale accommodations; or the Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch, which opened in 1912 and considered the oldest continuously operating guest ranch in Colorado, is also ideally located just southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park and nestled in a peaceful valley along the Colorado River.

Resorts with a Twist 

Sebasco Harbor Resort, Mid-Coast, Maine: This resort (“Pure Maine”) manages to be a delightful cross between a fine resort and a camp, with plenty of opportunity be outdoors, while still enjoying such refinements as golf on a superb course, full-service waterfront Fairwinds Spa, plus marvelous activities like kayaking (do the moonlight kayak trip, it is beyond fabulous), boating.. Actually, you can imagine Sebasco being the kind of “camp” that the Gilded Age moguls would have for one of their holiday homes. Nestled among whispering pines on the rugged coast Sebasco is tucked away on 550 acres with breathtaking views and a wealth of activities the entire family can enjoy. We stayed in the converted Lighthouse for the most magical experience. Check out special deals. (Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Rd., Sebasco Estates, ME, 04565, 877-389-1161, info@sebasco.comwww.sebasco.com).

Moonlight kayak trip at Sebasco Harbor Resort, Midcoast, Maine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among our favorite grand, historic resorts for families for facilities, activities programs, destination, sense of heritage and “place,” and overall ahhh experience:

Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont on 700 acres of Lake Champlain shoreline is about the best family-friendly luxury resort you can imagine with golf, hiking, biking, kayaking, cruises on Lake Champlain, fishing, watersports, tennis, outdoor pool children’s activities program (4800 Basin Harbor Road Vergennes, VT 05491 info@basinharbor.com, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com).

Basin Harbor Club, a grand, luxurious resort on Lake Champlain, Vermont, is a spectacular venue for families to come together © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, tucked in a Courier & Ives landscape in Chittenden, Vermont, near Killington, has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. It offers just about every outdoors activity you can imagine, even an equestrian center, private lakeside beach, children’s adventure camp, tennis, disc golf, clay-bird shooting, and hiking, biking, golf nearby. (195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com)

A real novelty in historic hotels (and a fantastic city to visit) is the Choo Choo Train Hotel in Chattanooga, TN, where you actually stay in a historic train car (motel rooms also available), and the station is the restaurant and lobby (1400 Market Street, Chattanooga, TN 37402, 423-266-5000, 800-Track29, choochoo.com)

You can stay in one of the historic train cars at Chattanooga’s famous Choo Choo Train Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other resort favorites: 

Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, Lenox, Massachusetts

Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing, Lake George, New York

Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, New York

The Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania (added benefit: proximity to Hershey theme park).

Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania

More at Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org, 800-678-8946. 

Cruising is always a great choice for families – a way to see lots of different places with minimal hassle. Best itineraries (and cruiselines that have best family programs) are to Alaska, the Galapagos (really a favorite for grandparents to take their grandkids).

For those who want a floating resort with rock walls, ropes course, ziplines, glitzy Broadway and Las Vegas-style entertainment and great supervised children’s activity programs, the most acclaimed lines are Royal Caribbean (Anthem, Symphony, Harmony, Allure, Oasis of the Seas); Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian Escape, Breakaway, Getaway, Epic); Carnival Cruise Line (Carnival Vista, Breeze, Dream, Magic); Disney Cruise Line (Disney Dream, Fantasy, Magic) and Princess Cruises. (See more at www.cruisecritic.com).

But here is a novel choice: Maine Windjammer Cruises – these are historic sailing vessels repurposed for passengers, that ply the waters around Rockland and Camden, Maine in the Penobscot Bay. The experience is more rustic (part of the fun!), where passengers can help raise and lower sails, even steer, help serve and gather the plates for meals served in the galley or on deck. You can even choose to sleep out under the stars instead of in the cabin, which is outfitted more like you would expect of summer camp, with bunk beds and shared bathroom facilities (hot showers are available). All the cruises typically include a lobster bake on a secluded beach.

Share in the thrill of the Great Schooner Race aboard one of the historic sailing ships in the Maine Windjammer fleet © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the cruises have special-interest themes, and some are very dramatic, that include a Schooner Gam, where all the historic schooners gather in one place and tie up and passengers can go and visit; there is also an annual Schooner Race which is tremendous fun. Visit the Maine Windjammer Association for a list and description of age-appropriate sailings (usually 10 years old). In the past, we have sailed on the Victory Chimes (the largest in the fleet), the American Eagle and the Isaac H Evans (www.sailmainecoast.com/ 800-807-9463).

Rent a Mid-Lakes Navigation Lockmaster canalboat and explore the Erie Canal to see how America came to be © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another novel experience is renting a canalboat on the Erie Canal, tying up where whimsy takes you and exploring the canaltowns on foot and by bike on the tow-path that has been turned into a bikeway. It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, and terrific fun to go through the locks, and have the bridges lift just for you. Mid-Lakes Navigation, Skaneateles, has these specially designed Lockmaster canalboats that are easy to maneuver, very comfortable, and oh so charming. (800-545-4318, info@midlakesnav.com, midlakesnav.com).

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dining Inn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also enjoyed perfectly prepared burger and short ribs.

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

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

During the holidays, there is live music playing.

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

So Much to Do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warm weather activities include:

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

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

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

Also available:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination Weddings, Elopements, Retreats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcome with the romantic ambiance and want to elope?

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

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

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

Hometown Connection: A Distinguished History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

 

Here’s What’s Up on Vermont’s Mountain Resorts Slopes for 2017-18 Season

Riding up to the summit in Okemo’s cozy bubble chair © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The big news for Northeast skiers is that the behemoths of the ski industry have all taken up residence in Vermont – Vail Resorts with its acquisition of Stowe Mountain, and Aspen Skiing/KSL buying Stratton Mountain. That is on top of Powdr (Killington and Pico as well as Mt. Batchelor) and Peak Resorts (Mount Snow as well as Attitash, NH and Hunter Mountain, NY). These resorts were already world-class, but now they have major branding, and with their system-wide ski passes, adds incentive for Western and Midwestern skiers to venture to Vermont.

“It’s an incredible tribute to Vermont and our iconic ski industry, having Vail and Aspen, two of the most well respected, world-class ski resort operator companies, coming to Vermont,” said Parker M. Riehle, former president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association. “Those acquisitions enable these resorts to rise to the next level. The enormous marketing can only help elevate entire Ski Vermont brand.”

What’s more, it gives more of a reason for Northeastern skiers to buy Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass (Aspen/KSL is likely to come out with its own by next season), then extend with Rocky Mountain or a Western ski trip, and for Midwestern and Western skiers to come East. Skiers can also follow the snow.

Vail Resorts’ acquisition of Stowe Mountain puts it in the stable with Whistler Blackcomb in Canada (the largest ski resort in North America) as well as at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah (the largest ski resort in the US); Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps near Minneapolis, Mt. Brighton near Detroit, Wilmot Mountain near Chicago, and the 2018 Perisher season in Australia. Also, Epic Pass holders enjoy limited access to 30 European ski resorts including Verbier and Les 4 Vallées in Switzerland, Les 3 Vallées in France; Arlberg in Austria; and Skirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta in Italy.

Stratton Mountain Resort, which was part of Intrawest, is now in the group that includes Aspen and Snowmass resorts, Intrawest flagships Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado (though Winter Park is still owned by the City of Denver); Deer Valley, Utah; Mammoth Mountain, California’s busiest ski area, Lake Tahoe’s Squaw and Alpine, and Tremblant in Quebec., plus heli operator Canadian Mountain Holidays.

Here are highlights of what skiers and snowboarders can experience at Vermont’s mountain resorts:

Bolton Valley

The big news is that the venerable Bolton Valley ski resort, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has been reacquired by a group of local investors headed by the resort’s founder, Ralph DesLauriers and his son, Evan, so is very much “locally owned” and family run.

Bolton Valley is upgrading its snowmaking system for the 2017-18 winter season. The pumps at the Timberline pumphouse will be balanced, allowing for more water to be pushed uphill, more quickly. The resort is also expanding its gun and hose inventory. Combined, these two upgrades will allow the resort to blow snow in multiple locations at the same time. The additional guns and hoses will also reduce downtime when the crews need to change locations. The overall benefit will be more snow earlier in the season and more trails getting covered faster than last year.

Bolton Valley is famous for offering over 1200 acres of backcountry. All of the terrain is mapped and easy to access by skinning up from the Nordic Center or taking the Wilderness lift and heading far skier’s right. The staff at the Nordic Center is always available to provide maps and suggest routes. The Catamount Trail Association hosts a few days of backcountry clinics to help those new to the sport become comfortable on their skis. When you are ready to test your mettle, check out one of the many events from the weekly uphill Skimo race series to the 24 Hours of Bolton Valley backcountry ski race. You can even arrange to overnight in cabins in the backcountry.

Bolton offers 71 trails along three peaks, the most extensive night skiing in Vermont (trails open until 10 pm for total of 79 hours week)

Bolton is a self-contained destination resort with ski in/out lodging; an indoor recreation center with pool and opening additional dining options including Bailey’s, for hot-served breakfast and lunch on weekends and holidays.

Bolton participates in the Freedom Pass program – 13 other independent mountains including Magic Mountain.

Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain’s new ownership continues its capital investment in one of Vermont’s “throwback” ski areas, proud of its “Old School” retro feel and fixed grip lifts.

After winning Liftopia’s award for best ski area in North America, Ski Magic LLC is building on its successful inaugural winter by putting more capital to work expanding the snowmaking system, adding two new lifts (the new green lift accesses beginner, intermediate terrain and a new magic carpet in a new learning area) and enhancing the classic lodge where the Black Line Tavern is recognized as one of the East’s most spirited après ski scenes. Key to Ski Magic’s efforts is broadening its ski offering to welcome more beginner, novice and intermediate skiers/riders. Magic will now have a new beginner area with a StarLift carpet conveyor lift for its Learning Center. The addition of the new Green Chair Lift servicing base-to-mid mountain intermediate and beginner terrain allows easier access to classic skiing for all ability levels. In combination with expanded snowmaking and grooming capabilities, the new Green Chair area will allow Magic to open earlier than ever by Thanksgiving.

Magic has been a leader in “uphill” traffic (people who shun the lift for the additional exercise) and that vibe continues to be actively supported as Magic has seen a two-fold increase in traffic going up by either skinning or snowshoeing. Magic never charges people getting up the mountain and in fact, provides a free lift ride token at the top for all uphill skiers or split-boarders. Long known for southern Vermont’s most extensive and challenging lift served tree-skiing, Magic also has guided backcountry tours this coming season with shuttle van pick-ups all of which must be reserved through the Learning Center. Snowshoeing trails will also be marked this fall so snowshoers can discover trails winding through the woods to the top of the mountain and to Sunshine Corner for great views of southern Vermont.

While located in southern Vermont (near Stratton and Bromley), Magic offers the terrain and ski experience of northern Vermont.

“It’s what it’s like to not be a KSL or Vail. We take the mountain back to a different era, a different experience that hearkens back to golden age of Vermont skiing,” says Geoff Hatheway, CEO.

Magic is part of the Freedom Pass program with 13 other independent mountains (including Bolton Valley, and Plattekill, NY)

Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Smugglers’ Notch is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the country but also offers expert trails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smugglers’ Notch Resort in northern Vermont continues to build on their award-winning programs and amenities which aim to provide an exceptional experience for fun-lovers of all ages. The completion of the FunZone 2.0 hits that mark and then some. With activities like a multi-course Smugglers’ Warrior Challenge, massive laser tag arena, Smugglers’ themed Mountain Rally Races slot car track, arcade, and transparent climbing tower, everyone in the family is included in the fun. Of course, the elements which made the original FunZone such a hit are still included, in the second floor of the complex, known as the Ozone. Additionally, toddlers can ignite their imaginations in the Littles’ Loft toddler play area. With features such as bouncy castle, pirate ship inflatable obstacle course, and Vermont inspired country store, toddlers can let their energy out while playing like the grown-ups they admire.

Families have always enjoyed skiing and riding together on their winter vacations at Smugglers’. Last winter there were more activities in the mix, as the resort responded to requests by families for even more activities to enjoy together. Families chose to vary their vacation days by joining craft sessions, broomball challenges, scavenger hunts, snowcat tours, story times and pool games, which were included in their Smugglers’ vacation package. Most popular activities? Oohing and ahhing over the weekly torchlight parade and fireworks, belting out tunes in family karaoke and building a sled to launch from a jump in I-Did-A-Sled – all had approval ratings of more than 95 percent.

Stratton Mountain Resort

Skiing at Stratton, which was just acquired as part of the mega-merger of Aspen Sking and KSL of Intrawest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Stratton, which is now part of the Aspen/Snowmass, Intrawest, Mammoth, Squaw, Deer Valley group, has expanded its fleet of 11 groomers includes two new Bison X Prinoth cats which guides the team in crafting seamless corduroy and terrain park features and transports guests to mid-mountain for a starlight gourmet dinner held every Saturday this winter. Combined with more than 1,200 efficient (HKD and fan) guns, Stratton’s seasoned operations team creates epic snow with less energy, including a 40% reduction in diesel use with the switch to electric compressors.

Stratton, which was just acquired as part of the mega-merger of Aspen Sking and KSL of Intrawest, has joined the M.A.X Pass family, giving their season pass holders the option to add five days of skiing and riding, with zero blackout days, at each of 42 other resorts across North America for just $329. 

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe Mountain Resort is now part of Vail Resorts and is included on the Epic Pass.

Stowe Mountain Resort, newly acquired by Vail Resorts is now Epic (as in Epic Pass) for the 2017-18 winter season. Starting at only $859, the Epic Pass offers unlimited, unrestricted access to Stowe Mountain Resort and the Epic Local Pass, $639, will offer 10 days of skiing at Stowe. The iconic, East Coast resort is the newest among 45 of the world’s most renowned mountain destinations to be offered with the Epic Pass – which includes the best of the West throughout 10 world-class destination resorts.

The new, $30 million Stowe Adventure Center is a state-of-the art facility that sets a new standard in the industry for kids and family amenities. Located at Spruce Peak, Stowe’s Adventure Center is home to all the children’s programs. From daycare facilities to ski and ride programs for kids 3 and up, the new Adventure Center has significantly advanced and expanded luxurious family amenities and services at the resort. The building also includes new shops, an Indoor Climbing Center (called Stowe Rocks) and family-friendly dining in The Canteen restaurant

Fulfilling the need for family fun off the slopes has been the number one trend at Stowe Mountain Resort over the past several years. That’s why Stowe has recently opened several new amenities in the beautiful Spruce Peak Village Center. Here, at the base of Stowe Mountain, families can enjoy free ice skating (11 am to 9 pm daily) on the new rink centrally located at Spruce (rentals available). On one end of the rink is the new Pavilion building that hosts both children’s activities such as arts and crafts, along with a wine bar for the adults. Also, adjacent to the outdoor ice rink is the Stowe Rocks indoor climbing center. Suitable for all ages, Stowe Rocks has 6 different program walls and a free-standing 40-foot ‘Elephant Head’ tower.

Spruce Peak is also home to the relatively new Stowe Mountain Lodge, one of the most awarded new ski-in ski-out luxury hotels & spas in the world.

Sugarbush

Uphill travel at Sugarbush continues to see huge increases in popularity over the last few seasons. The resort offers free uphill travel passes valid for skinning up designated routes at the resort before and after lift-served operating hours. Sugarbush enters its fourth year with such a policy. The resort hosts Tour De Moon several times throughout the season – a guided skin to Walt’s at the Glen House at Mt. Ellen and offers an uphill travel option for Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining.

In addition, the resort is replacing two of its older double lifts, the Village Double and Sunshine Double, with new fixed-grip quads. There are new RFID gates to speed access, new snowmaking.

With the widespread conglomeration of ski resorts, Sugarbush is emphatically proud of being independently owned and operated (the owner can be found skiing some 100 days).

Sugarbush is replacing the old ticket scanning system with RFID gates at all base lifts. Other projects to improve the guest experience include purchasing new SnowLogic guns, replacing the motor for the North Ridge Quad, installing a new snowmaking pipe on Which Way, new air compressor for snowmaking and purchasing two new Pisten Bully groomers (one specifically designed for the terrain park).

New for the 2017-18 season, Sugarbush has joined the Mountain Collective, an international pass with access to 16 premier ski destinations all over the world.

The resort is creating new trails for hiking and mountain biking for spring 2018, and Nordic and snowshoeing and ski biking at its center. Tuesday nights offer snowshoeing and picnic on the mountain.

Killington Resort

Killington, “The Beast of the East,” the site of the Audi FIS Ski World Cup over Thanksgiving Weekend, brings new, lower season pass pricing on their Unlimited Season Passes offering unrestricted access to the longest season in the East at an even better value than last season. Killington continues to replace snowmaking infrastructure to ensure their ability to deliver a consistent ski and ride experience.

Killington is committed to providing the highest quality snow surface possible. As part of this commitment, POWDR continues to upgrade the resort’s snowmaking system, from pipes and pumps, to snowguns and snowcats. As part of a $1M investment in conjunction with Efficiency Vermont, Killington and Pico will add new low-energy tower-mounted snowguns that use a fraction of the power compared to older models. Additionally, three new state-of-the-art energy efficient snowcats will produce top-notch manicured trails and terrain parks at Killington and Pico.

A Learn to ski and snowboard Discovery” program consists of 4 days lift tickets and rental, then you get to keep a free pair of skis.

Skiing at Pico, which is connected to Killington, “The Beast of the East” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Killington and Pico are catering to increasing popularity of “uphill travel” with guests choosing to reach the peaks of Bear Mountain, Snowdon, Ramshead and Pico via human vs. machine power with designated routes for each mountain area and 24/7 access (when designed routes are open).

(We were delighted to learn that Casey’s Caboose, a delightful restaurant near Killington, had been closed for four years, but was acquired by a Brit who loves Killington and has reopened the restaurant.)

Killington and Pico are two of four Vermont resorts to offer the M.A.X Pass add-on for season passholders. The add on at $329, gives purchasers five days of additional skiing and riding at any of the 42 participating resorts nationwide, including Stratton, Okemo, Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Windham (just joined), Whiteface and Gore. 

Mount Snow Resort

Ski school at Mount Snow © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Always a pioneer when it comes to snowmaking, Mount Snow has completed $30 million in snowmaking upgrades for the upcoming season, including doubling their ability to make snow and increasing storage capacity six-fold. These upgrades give Mount Snow one of the most powerful snowmaking systems in the East, meaning more trails opening faster to start the season, and better coverage all winter long.

Mount Snow also recently opened a 30,000 sq. foot base lodge at the terrain park, and is widening a popular trail off the summit.

Packages are available from $101/night.

Part of Peaks Resorts, Mount Snow is included in the Peak Pass family which allows recipients access to seven mountains from New Hampshire down to Pennsylvania, including sister resorts Attitash, NH and Hunter Mountain, NY.

Okemo Mountain Resort

Skiing into the Jackson-Gore condo village at Okemo © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Okemo’s dedication to creating a superior snow surface continues with the addition of two new grooming machines to its fleet of Prinoth Beasts. The Prinoth Bison demonstrates excellent maneuverability and climbing ability – even in adverse conditions – and the Bison X is the ultimate park vehicle. Snowmaking upgrades include a new feeder pipe from Okemo’s Base Pump to mid-mountain Pump Station, and additional pipe upward. Okemo is also adding HKD SV 10 snowguns, bringing its arsenal of HKD snow guns to 1,300 mountain-wide. Okemo continues its rental equipment replacement program with the purchase of more new skis and snowboards, and, to keep all that equipment in top condition, Okemo is upgrading tuning equipment in the shops at both base areas.

Okemo is a frontrunner with simplified season pass offerings and reduced prices across the board. Skiers and riders can choose from the Ultra Pass, Classic Pass, Midweek Pass and College Pass. And all passes qualify for a M.A.X Pass add-on – five days of skiing and riding, with zero blackout days, at each of 42 other resorts across North America.

Mad River Glen

Mad River Glen’s goal is to maintain and preserve the experience rather than overhaul or upgrade it. The ability of Mad River Glen to consistently reinvest in the mountain’s infrastructure is a testament to the success of the Cooperative. Both the skier-owners and the management understand that skiers come to Mad River for the unique combination of legendary terrain, sense of community, low skier density and intimate atmosphere. In over 20 years of co-op ownership, Mad River Glen has invested well over $5 million in capital improvements.

Mad River Glen’s Naturalist Programs are becoming more popular every year. Ever wondered why there are so many snowshoe hare tracks on the slopes? Or seen the bear bites and scratches on trees and questioned the meaning behind them? Perhaps you have encountered Moose tracks and pondered how they can survive the winters. Valley visitors can learn more about these animals, mountains and forests of Vermont by taking part in one of Mad River Glen’s award-winning Naturalist Programs.

Bromley Mountain Resort

Kid’s fun is the focus at Bromley. On snow, Bromley has reworked their terrain park to embrace the learning progression for smaller statures, with a progressive flow that keeps kids jumping and spinning safely as they move from beginner to professional jib hunter. Off snow they’ve kept the après options easy, with a dedicated kid’s space in the lodge, complete with Vew-do balance boards, movies, video games and, on some nights, special guest entertainment.

Bromley’s cozy base lodge is getting a new roof, the Sun Deck has been resurfaced (all the better to support après firepit hangs), and the rental equipment fleet has a superbly restocked quiver. Don’t own your own? Bromley is expanding the high-performance options in the rental shop this season with more new Rossignol Experience 80 skis, plus all new junior boots in the latest comfy model for happy kid feet.

Jay Peak Resort

Skiing at Jay Peak © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jay Peak is adding reels and rappelling to its list of activities for the coming winter. The resort is opening a 142-seat movie theater and Clip ‘n Climb climbing facility in the 15,000-square foot Clips and Reels recreation center opening at the Stateside area of the resort.

Weather-proofing the New England ski and ride vacation is a trend Jay Peak started when they opened their Ice Haus in 2010. The arena offers public skating times, figure-skating lessons and stick-and-puck pick-up games. Jay Peak expanded the weather-proof menu in 2011 with the 60,000-square foot Pump House, an indoor waterpark that guarantees exhausted children.

Suicide Six

Suicide Six (the ski mountain that is owned by the grand Woodstock Inn) continues to make trail improvements, with widening, stumping and thinning of glades in many areas across the map. Contour and grade changes will allow for faster and better snowmaking coverage, as well as newly constructed load and unload decks at the recently installed summit quad. Snowmaking improvements continue with the addition of new snow producers, as well as pipeline and infrastructure repairs. Look for better coverage and higher quality when you visit this season and expect more to come in the future.

Trapp Family Lodge

The Trapp Family Lodge, as famous for its cross-country skiing as it is for being founded by the family immortalized in the “Sound of Music,” decked out for the holidays.

North America’s first cross-country skiing center is turning 50! Join Trapp Family Lodge this season in Stowe and join in the celebration from January 20-26 for a week of events including a celebration at the Bierhall, a ski with the von Trapps and a specialty brew by von Trapp Brewing. They’ll be celebrating all winter so come ski for the day or get a season’s pass and celebrate all winter. 

Mountain Top Inn & Resort

Mountaintop Inn & Resort, popular for cross-country skiing, is a magical winter wonderland.

In addition to the abundance of winter activities including 60km of cross country ski (much of it groomed and pet-friendly) and snowshoe trails, Mountain Top Inn & Resort is leading Vermont’s rising trend as a premier 4-season wedding destination. Snow covered winter weddings are a rising trend right now and the property beckons couples with one of Vermont’s most spectacular views, gorgeous event barn, year-round activities and luxurious accommodations. Offering a magical winter wonderland, many of these weddings involve avid skiers wishing to infuse their favorite past-time into their special day.

The resort is also a short distance away from the alpine slopes of Killington and Pico.

More information from Vermont Ski Areas Association, https://skivermont.com/ where you can use the Resort Finder, find out about lodging, packages, deals, conditions. 

The Woodstock Inn & Resort Offers Ski & Stay Packages for Winter 2018

The grand, historic Woodstock Inn in spring in the quintessential New England village of Woodstock, offers ski and stay packages with its ski area, Suicide Six © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

WOODSTOCK, VT– With predictions of a “snowier-than-normal” winter this year by the Farmer’s Almanac, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is already gearing up with two ski packages available for guests at its private Suicide Six Ski Area, offering more than 100 acres of skiing and snowboarding on 24 trails and slopes with terrain suitable for all abilities. And, the resort’s Tubbs Snowshoes & Nordic Adventure Center provides adventurers with an additional 30 kilometers of trails to explore via Nordic skis, fat tire bikes or snowshoes. Nestled in Vermont’s Green Mountains, Suicide Six is one of the oldest ski areas in the country.

Couples are invited to ramp-up winter romance on the slopes with the Teach Your Honey How to Ski package, available from January 1 through March 10, 2018 and includes: luxury accommodations for one night; two hour private lesson for beginners (includes lift ticket); one regular lift ticket for the second person; two après ski cocktails to toast a day on the slopes together; uUse of the Athletic Club’s fitness equipment, indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and hot tub (package rate starts at $493 per couple). 

The Suicide Six Ski package is available from January 1 through March 10, 2018 and includes:

luxury accommodations for one night; all-day ski passes for two adults at Suicide Six Ski area;  hearty breakfast for two at the Red Rooster; use of the Athletic Club’s fitness equipment, indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and hot tub (package rate starts at $381 per couple; additional people may be added for an added cost, plus tax, gratuitity and $30 per room, per night resort fee; blackout dates apply).

For après ski, Pearly’s Pourhouse at Suicide Six has local Vermont beer on tap, hearty winter-fare and a wood-burning fireplace. Guests can also warm up by the Inn’s iconic lobby fireplace or retreat to The Spa, a 10,000 square foot facility complete with a relaxation space, Shaker wood stoves, a hot tub, and a Scandinavian sauna. The guest-favorite game room, draped in cozy Vermont flannel, is fully equipped for game night with a giant Scrabble board, foosball table, vintage pinball machines, board games, and more. A choice of culinary options includes the Red Rooster, a fine dining restaurant that emphasizes fresh, local ingredients sourced from the best purveyors in New England, and the comfortable Richardson’s Tavern, known for its heartwarming fondue made from nearby Billings Farm cheese.

Recognized as one of the “prettiest small towns in America,” Woodstock is steps away from the Woodstock Inn & Resort, where guests will find history brimming with true New England charm. For shopping and strolling, downtown Woodstock’s quaint antique shops, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, specialty food markets and more are just outside the resort’s front door. And, also a short walk away are The Billings Farm and Museum and The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion, Laurance and Mary Rockefeller’s home, which are part of the March-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park.

Located in idyllic Woodstock, Vermont, The Woodstock Inn & Resort defines country sophistication in one of New England’s most charming and popular year-round vacation destinations.  The 142-room, AAA Four Diamond Resort and a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts LVX Collection, offers award-winning dining in two restaurants, ranked among the finest in New England.  The Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs.

For more information about the Woodstock Inn & Resort, visit www.woodstockinn.com. 

See also:

Ski Vacation Specialist SkiCom Assists Skiers, Riders Looking Further Afield for New Mountain Experiences

Big Changes Await at Ski Colorado Destinations This Season

Vail Resorts Unveils Major Improvements at Network of Ski Destinations

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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

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

Riding over the Eastern Continental Divide on the Great Allegheny Passage railtrail on the first day of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn biketour © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The ages of the 200 of us on this year’s Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn, biking 150-miles along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and Montour Trail across western Pennsylvania, ranges from 9 to 83 years old. Indeed, there are 15 young people and three octogenarians among us.

A bike tour such as this, along relatively flat trails free of cars and other hazards, is a great equalizer: youngsters feel competent, accomplished, adventurous; and oldsters, well, feel competent, accomplished, adventurous and youthful.

Our group comes from more than 30 states plus Canada and as far as Alaska, including families, three generations (a grandfather who is a retired physics professor, his three sons and two grandsons); grandfathers with grandsons, a mother with her son; husbands without wives; wives without husbands; and single women relishing the simultaneous independence with community.

Three generations of the Parsegian family who have come from Massachusetts, Texas, Michigan and New York to bike the Great Allegheny Passage on the RTC Sojourn © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I reconnect with a couple from DC whom I first met on the 400-mile Erie Canal bikeride two years ago, again last year on this RTC Sojourn on the GAP, and this year, we find ourselves sitting next to each other on the bus from the drop-off to the start of the ride – he is the 83-year old. I meet people like Ed Holowinko of Connecticut, who was one of the activists who helped save the Walk over the Hudson, when otherwise, the bridge would have been taken down and instead has become one of the most popular attractions in the state. I meet people who defy the stereotype of an environmentalist cyclist: a woman who is as comfortable riding her motorcycle as her bike and a man who proudly defends the NRA (though political discussions are assiduously avoided, just as at any family gathering).

Comfy Campers set up 81 tents for the RTC Sojourners – the closest thing to “glamping” – creating a tent city at Meyersdale © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The supported ride is ideal for singles and families as well as those on their first biketour or experiencing their first long-distance ride: a luggage truck brings your stuff from one campsite to the next; there is breakfast and dinner provided daily; shower trucks and portasans supplement the campsite’s facilities; charging stations. If you don’t want to set up a tent, you can luxuriate in hiring Comfy Campers which provides a terrifically comfortable, watertight tent with air mattress, chair, fresh towel daily, cooling area with water and lemonade and chargers – the closest thing to “glamping” you can find. (Those who don’t want to camp can take advantage of bed-and-breakfast accommodations along the route.) In addition, there is a bike mechanic and massage therapists, and a volunteer nurse who travel with us.

There is such a sense of community that immediately forms in our tent city – sitting around long tables at breakfast and dinner; waiting for a turn at the shower truck, brushing teeth at the sinks – it’s like a giant pajama party. The kids come together in games and activities; we gather around for an evening talk (one night Pennsylvania Jack, a storyteller, regaled us), a campfire, and, for the final night, a talent show (contestants competed for the grand prize, a Fuji bike!). Another nice feature this year: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company joined as a sponsor, and we have free beer (terrific Pale Ale!) on a few of our dinners.

Oldest and youngest among us on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s 140-mile Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are endless conversations with people who have never heard your stories before that typically begin, “Where are you from?” I meet a woman from Michigan who, now retired, takes one of these long-distance biketours on rail-trails practically monthly – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; the Katy Trail, in Missouri; the Louisiana Bayou.

Many of us (one-third, in fact), had been on this Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage before, including me, but the destination and the experience is so fantastic, it is delightful to return over and over. Each day provides a different highlight, and each person will have a different experience. And each day brings its own serendipity, its own uniqueness – the season, weather, lighting, chance encounters, different things to explore. Indeed, even the sections of the Great Allegheny Passage that I had traveled last year in spring were very different this summer.

The Great Allegheny Passage crosses over the Mason-Dixon Line © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is more, there are significant differences in the itinerary – this year’s trip was longer in distance and days, starting out closer to the Mason-Dixon Line and the Eastern Continental Divide (and the beginning of the 150-mile long GAP, which starts in Cumberland, Maryland, 21 miles further east from the Mason-Dixon line, but would involve a steep uphill climb; the way we do it, there is only a slight incline and most of us ride the mere 4 miles out and back, adding a mere 8 miles to the first day’s tally); featured a “fun day” in Pennsylvania’s magnificent Ohiopyle State Park when we get to choose among four different activities (I choose a Class III whitewater river rafting experience which is sensational; others choose a milder Class I river rafting trip, or visits to one of two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, Fallingwaters or Kentuck Nob, and still others just do their own thing), which also meant we had two days at one campsite.

Also, the ending of the trip takes us back toward Pittsburgh (actually Coraopolis, PA) on the Montour Trail, which, like the Great Allegheny Passage – both award-winning trails – and a superb example of how obsolete rail lines (or canalways, or right-of-ways alongside active rail lines) can be turned into multi-use recreational trails. These linear parks, if you will, not only provide wellness and outdoor activities for families to do together, but also revitalize towns and villages whose economies have been upended by shuttered factories and mines, towns and villages that for so long had been defined by the railroads, the steel mills, the coal mines. Along the way, I will capture images of the cyclists on the rail trail cutting into hillsides topped with wind turbines above the Pennsylvania towns founded on oil, coal and gas. The rail-trails provide a new lease on life, as it were, and we realize it as the chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, volunteer firefighters, Rotary and Lions Clubs go out of their way to greet us.

RTC bikers on the Great Allegheny Trail pass by wind turbines on the Pennsylvania hilltops © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And so we are welcomed at Meyersdale, our first night’s destination, where the railroad station along the Great Allegheny Passage has been turned into a delightful historical society display, refreshment stand and shop, by representatives of local chamber; a special Sunday evening service at the church features a prayer for all the Sojourners to have a safe ride, dinner at the fire department and breakfast at what used to be the town’s high school. This is a town that once supported six hotels, a bank, a high school and elementary school – today, all but the bank (built in 1904) are shuttered. And while the GAP goes over one railroad line that has been turned into the railtrail, there is still an active railroad line that goes right through the middle of town.

Walking about after our dinner, there is this eerie quiet and stillness – a sense of being in a movie set, rather than a town, or a scene in Twilight Zone (granted, it is Sunday and Fathers’ Day at that). I pass a barber shop and peer in: there is a crumbled newspaper, brown and deteriorating with age; the leather barber chairs are cracked; the shop seems to have been left alone for decades- I take note of a Sheriff’s notice on the door handle. I pass a porch with a Confederate flag and “Don’t tread on me” banner.

Meyersdale shows its pride © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meyersdale is a very proud community – it showcases its history on markers, on magnificent painted murals that fill entire sides of buildings, even on the placemats that picture the town’s history and attractions which are laid out for our breakfast that features Meyersdale’s famous maple syrup (who knew this was the capital of maple syrup making?).

The towns we get to visit are absolutely wonderful – quite literally, Smalltown America -and the contrast with seeing nothing but trees, rocks and river along the trail is stimulating and intriguing.

You are deep in the forest – for much of the way, riding alongside a river or creek on one side, and outcroppings of rocks on the other, riding through a literal “tree tunnel” that envelopes you. Occasionally we ride by a farm, but most of the time, the solitude is just stunning – the kind of serenity you feel when you are hiking. The only sound is the wind you create by riding, the crunching sound of the bike wheels on the hard-packed gravel, and birds. Many, many birds. Occasionally we pass by a small waterfall. It is surprising with so much land all around we don’t see that many animals, though on one day, we come upon several deer on the trail; chipmunks who scurry across the path (amazing how they time their dash), making a huge leap into the bushes just as I am about to reach them. The quiet is occasionally broken by a train whistle and the chugging as they haul something like 8000 tons of coal on tracks on the opposite riverbank.

The serenity of biking on the Great Allegheny Passage © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you are a writer or poet, this is better to get creative juices flowing than holing up in isolated cabin – your imagination and your thoughts dance in your head as you ride, nurtured by the rhythms and the endorphins. If you are an artist, you will be inspired by the scenes that stream by.

At one point, I think to myself, “We are like nomads, like pioneers, steadily picking up stakes and moving on, each time setting up a new community.”

The trail also has some wonderfully thrilling  and dramatic features – it is tremendous fun (exciting too) going through these old rail tunnels, over viaducts and steel bridges – that have been built for the trains, but now rebuilt and repurposed, largely because of the efforts of local communities and volunteers, for bikes.

Riding through the Pinkerton Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride at our own pace – and can go off the trail to explore if we like – and depending upon the length of ride (from about 30 miles to the longest ride, 62 miles with some optional add-ons, averaging 35-40 miles a day), we would have one or two rest stops with snacks and cold water. They offer suggestions for lunch or ice cream or attractions we might want to explore, like Rockwood’s Opera House (our cue sheets offer great detail). And in many cases, people from the town set up to welcome us.

This is clear from the first day, when we have the option of either riding a mere 8 miles to the first night’s campsite, just 8 miles to Meyersdale, or add four miles out and back to explore several iconic sites, including the Eastern Continental Divide, the Big Savage Tunnel, the Big Savage Overlook and the Mason-Dixon Line monument.

At that night’s dinner, held in the Meyersdale Fire House, the trip leader, Tom Sexton, Director of the Northeast Regional Office of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Who is leading the Sojourn, talks about the mission of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and our role as Sojourners.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has played a key advocacy role to promote the creation and use of these repurposed trails. RTC has been a partner, providing technical assistance – such as negotiating with railroads, advising localities on visioning and feasibility studies as well as construction, and coordination with nonprofits and volunteer efforts, such as the Montour Trail Council that has been so active in building and improving the trail we will take.

A current project underway will link trails in four states, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, creating an Industrial Heartland Trail Network. (New York State, which has the Erie Canalway that extends from Buffalo to Albany, is creating the Empire State Trail, finishing 350-miles of new trails that would complete the Eric Canalway and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and connecting them to form a 750-mile pathway, the longest in the nation, from New York Harbor, through the Adirondack Mountains, to the Canadian border, and from Lake Erie to Albany.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy promotes the use of rail-trails – there are some 23,000 miles of rail-trails- and its TrailLink.com website helps you locate them.

RTC is also an advocacy group lobbying Congress and the administration, which will be important coming up, because Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the earmarks for rail-trails.

RTC’s Tom Sexton: federal funding for rail-to-trail projects like the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail are in jeopardy © 2017 Karen Rubin /goingplacesfarandnear.com

As Sexton explains, since 1991, the major funding for these rail-to-trail projects has come from the federal government, with matching funds from states and localities. The Highway Bill had typically included mass transit and railroad funding but beginning in 1991, also earmarked funding for 10 categories, including rail-trails, given as grants to states to use for acquisition, planning and construction.

But that is under threat by the new administration:

“The president’s budget proposal eliminates all funding for the wildly popular TIGER program, which is bad news for trails and active transportation,” RTC states. “Without TIGER, trails could miss out on hundreds of millions in funding. Since the program began in 2009, TIGER has provided nearly $340 million in funding for active transportation projects and trail networks like the Circuit Trails in PhiladelphiaCleveland Metroparks and the Atlanta BeltLine. What’s more, using the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ methodology to calculate jobs per mile of trail built, we project that TIGER investments in active transportation have generated thousands of jobs.

“TIGER is much more than a program that supports trails; it funds all transportation modes and is unique in that it encourages cross-jurisdictional and multimodal cooperation, breaking down traditional bureaucratic silos and looking at balanced transportation systems as a whole. This makes the program intentional, focused and efficient in the projects it selects—and effective in achieving outcomes after construction.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation has thus far awarded TIGER funding to diverse projects including roads and bridges, ports, railways, transit, freight operations and, of course, trails and other walking and biking infrastructure. However, the new president and transportation secretary will set their own funding priorities….

“The budget also calls for an end to general fund infusions to the Highway Trust Fund, eliminating $95 billion in expected transportation spending over the same 10 years, raising further doubts about the extent to which infrastructure investment would increase if the president’s budget proposal were to pass.”

Map of our 2017 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn ride on the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, we Sojourners are ambassadors and advocates and increasingly now, also activists.

“Everyone here is an ambassador,” says Brandi Horton, RTC’s VP of Communications. “We show the towns, the communities, city and town and state governments just how important rail trails are to building community, generating economic development, building tourism and getting people out together.”

Tips for advocating include bringing a friend out with you on the trail, use social media, lobby state and federal legislators to make sure trails are included in infrastructure funding; let your Congressmember know you use the trails, send a photo.

RTC has also its “take action” section of the website, where you can plug in your zipcode, find your official and send a note.

“Be a spokesperson, do community outreach. If you want to get a trail in your community, you need your voice heard not just at the federal, state and regional level, but at the local level.”

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Washington, DC 20037, 202-974-5150, Railstotrails.orgTrailLink.com.

See next:

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

Pascal Glass Sculpture with Trump Connection is Boon for Dunbar, Pennsylvania

 ____________________

© 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

 

 

New York City is Winter Wonderland of Spirited Delights

 

Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City is never more vibrant than during the holiday season.

The epicenter for Christmas in New York is Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree, ice skating on one of the most iconic rinks in the world (therinkatrockcenter.com, ringed by giant Nutcrackers and holiday garlands and a veritable parade of angels. Perhaps little known, there are delightful eateries and shops inside at rink level. Also, you are just across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue which besides stunning animated storybook windows, has for several years turned its entire façade into a holiday Sound & Light show. Cap it off with a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas Church (check out the holiday concert schedule).

Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The City twinkles with holiday spirit, particularly as its famed stores strive to outdo the previous year’s artful animated windows. One of my favorite things is to structure a walking tour that starts at Macy’s on 34th Street, and moves up to Fifth Avenue to Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).  

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, holiday markets (through Jan 3), cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become a another hallmark of the holidays.

Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets (through Dec 24) at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

While your at The annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal, a popular model railroad exhibition presented annually by the New York Transit Museum, features Metro-North, New York Central, and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal (through February, M-F, 8 am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 10 am-6pm (grandcentralterminal.com).

Can’t get enough trains for Christmas? The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a must-see New York tradition for families, featuring model trains that hum past more than 150 iconic buildings in a miniature city landscape (though Jan 16, 2017). (nybg.org).

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays, with the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com). The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that should be visited, is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. (The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park;s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939. On view: Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30. (West Side at 79th Street) Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre). 

What would Christmas be without the Rockettes or the “Nutcracker”?

The Rockettes kick their way into the holidays as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes  through January 2. The production will dazzle audiences with brand new dance numbers, extravagant costumes, and traditional fan favorites (rockettes.com/christmas).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, from November 25-December 31 (nycballet.com).

There are always fantastic things going on at the American Museum of Natural History, famous for the Origami Holiday Tree (amnh.org), The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is origami Dinosaurs Among Us, inspired by the current exhibitions ¡Cuba! and Dinosaurs Among Us. Visitors can see feathered dinosaurs and stunning modern birds among other treasured models. During the holiday season, knowledgable volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages the art of origami folding (through Jan.6). There are scores of special activities through December (even a sleepover for adults!). The Butterfly Conservatory has reopened.

Also amazing venues: Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (nyhistory.org).

The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Look up to the Empire State Building for its annual holiday light show series from December 20 – December 24. The building’s stunning Art Deco lobby will also be decked out with brand-new holiday decorations and custom-designed holiday windows. While you are looking up, tune in: Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. and iHeartMedia have announced that the annual Empire State Building (ESB) holiday music-to-light show will feature global superstar Mariah Carey and her iconic hit song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from her first holiday album, Merry Christmas. The show, designed by renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman, will premiere on December 19 and will be synced live each night at 7 p.m. ET on iHeartMedia New York’s Z100, 103.5 KTU and 106.7 Lite FM through December 25. (www.esbnyc.com/explore/tower-lights/calendar)

Holiday Tours with a Twist

The RIDE, an innovative bus tour of Manhattan’s highlights, does a special Holiday Edition, available through Jan. 8. The comfy motorcoaches, designed so that the seats face out to giant picture windows, whips around the city. (holiday tickets $79, 212-221-0853,ExperienceTheRide.com).l

Sugartooth Tours presents a Holiday Market Dessert Tour that lets you sample delectable desserts from Herald Square through lesser-known hidden gem bakeries, where you experience the culinary traditions of a wide variety of countries, including France, Germany, and Belgium, tasting hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and other treats. The tour concludes at the Union Square Holiday Market, the area’s most exciting holiday market for shopping and other holiday treats. The tours are offered Sundays at 2 pm up until Christmas, and by request for groups. Tickets are $50 and include all tastings. Gift certificates available. www.sugartoothtours.com.

Holiday Festivities in the Boroughs

The New York Hall of Science presents Gingerbread Lane, which features more than 1,050 gingerbread houses as well as a double-decker carousel and 10-square-foot candy factory. Visitors can marvel at homemade gingerbread houses made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year. GingerBread Lane has won the Guinness World Record for 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the largest gingerbread village. Lovitch’s creation will again contend for this year’s Guinness World Record. Free with NYSCI admission (through Jan 15, 2017, nysci.org).

Visitors can take a tour of the festively decorated Queens County Farm Museum during the Holiday Open House at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park, December 26–28 (noon-4 pm). Enjoy free tours of the decorated 1772 Adriance Farmhouse at our annual Holiday Open House. Children will enjoy seasonal craft activities and all visitors are invited to warm up with freshly mulled cider and snacks. A Victorian Christmas tree will be on display. (Free event; no gate admission,queensfarm.org)

The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a national historic landmark, hosts annual holiday tours throughout the holiday season, featuring Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of “’Twas the Night before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas)” from December 1-30 (louisarmstronghouse.org).

A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour, running through December 31 (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), will dazzle guests with Dyker Heights’ sparkling lights exhibitions featuring 30-foot-tall toy soldiers and nativity scenes (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

 

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for what to do Christmas Eve to Christmas Day (when most other places close). Here are some ideas:

For the holiday fanatic:

Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center is open December 24–25, offering visitors the chance to skate next to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (therinkatrockcenter.com).
  • Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Bryant Park Winter Village is ideal for ice-skating and holiday shopping at its many seasonal vendors (wintervillage.org).
  • The Radio City Rockettes will perform the beloved Christmas Spectacular in three shows on December 24 and four on December 25 (rockettes.com).
  • The Ride: Holiday Edition is back this year, offering interactive tours on both December 24 & 25 (experiencetheride.com). 

Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For (not just) the first-time visitor:

  • Visitors can admire the City from up high all weekend long, with the iconic Empire State Building open 8am–2am (com).
  • In Lower Manhattan, the recently opened One World Observatory is open 9am–5pm on Christmas Eve and 9am–10pm on Christmas Day.
  • Above the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Rink, Top of the Rock is open 8am–11pm on December 24 and 8am–midnight December 25 (com).
  • Beloved Madame Tussauds New York has extended hours on December 24–25, open 9am–10pm both days (com).
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s 500-plus unique exhibits are open to the public 365 days a year, with holiday weekend hours of 9am–1am (com).

For the culture buff:

  • 12 Broadway shows are offering Christmas Day performances, including Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Cats, Chicago, The Color Purple, Jersey Boys and Wicked (org).
  • Historic jazz club Blue Note New York offers brunch and evening performances on December 24–25 (net).
  • Visitors to the Upper East Side’s Jewish Museum on December 24-25 can enjoy new exhibits and a sit-down meal at the museum’s recently opened Russ & Daughters café (org).

For the outdoorsman:

  • The City’s public parks, including Central Park, Pelham Bay Park and Prospect Park, are open over the holiday weekend, (nycgovparks.org).
  • Three of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoos—Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo—are open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (wcs.org).
  • The High Line, a stunning urban park that is itself a work of art (and has become one of New York’s most popular attractions), is open to the public over the holidays, offering visitors spectacular views of Manhattan’s Far West Side, Empire State Building, Hudson River and beyond (thehighline.org).  

For the last-minute shopper:

Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

  • Several department stores are open Christmas Eve (closed Christmas Day), including Macy’s Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales (nycgo.com).
  • Arthur Avenue’s food and retail market is open December 24–25, offering the opportunity to purchase authentic Italian produce, fresh cheese, meats and holiday treats (arthuravenuebronx.com).
  • Brooklyn Flea’s Winter Market at Skylight One Hanson is open December 24 from 10am to 3pm, and is offering extended noon to 8pm holiday hours December 21–23 (brooklynflea.com).

Lower East Side staple Essex Street Market will be open December 24, with vendors including beauty suppliers, art galleries and bakeries (essexstreetmarket.com).

Holiday Places to Dine

As for the most festive places for dining:

  • Tavern on the Green, the Central Park holiday mainstay, offers a three-course prix-fixe Brunch menu from 9am-3pm. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they will offer their Traditional Tavern on the Green Christmas dinner for $125 per person. Seating will be 4pm-11pm on Christmas Eve and 11am-9pm on Christmas Day (com).
  • The Palm Court at The Plaza offers special Christmas high tea service with a three-tiered assortment of holiday delicacies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $125 per person. Their holiday menu runs from November 1 – January 3 (com).
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem presents a three-course prix-fixe menu for $55 per person featuring American holiday staples such as cornbread, deviled eggs, honey glazed ham, butternut squash soup, and roast turkey (com).
  • David Chang’s renowned Momofuku Ko presents an eight-course tasting menu for both lunch and dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $225 per person (momofuku.com).
  • Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club presents a Holiday Carolers Brunch each Saturday in December and Christmas Day, featuring a traditional caroling troupe and seasonal treats like the Stuffed French Toast with mascarpone, cranberry-pear compote and hazelnuts along with decadent hot chocolate and toppings. Reservations are $68 Per adult and $35 per child (com).

Holiday Lodging Packages

Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Have family or friends who are visiting from out of town? Here are some hotel ideas:

  • Visitors have no shortage of options when it comes to new hotels this holiday season, including The Beekman, Four Seasons New York Downtown and Arlo Hotels’ two new properties.
  • Z Hotel NYC is offering a Making Memories Package from October 7 to December 24. Components of the package include a Deluxe Queen overlooking the Manhattan skyline, dinner for two in the hotel’s new restaurant, the ceLLar bar, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and a picture flip book capturing memories of your NYC trip.
  • For the holiday shopping season, ROW NYC offers a Bloomingdales Shop & Stay package, providing guests with a Bloomingdales’ $50 gift card, duffle bag, VIP leather wallet, key chain and special in-store offers (com).
  • Conrad New York will again offer its Conrad Skate package, including a stay in the hotel’s luxurious suites, breakfast at ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant and private skating lessons with Olympic skaters at The Rink at Brookfield Place, with a special autographed takeaway gift and hot cocoa at the hotel, post-skating (com).
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, The Time Hotel New York offers a Holiday On Point Package. The offer includes Caviar pizza from Serafina paired with a Magnum bottle of Dom Perignon Rose Champagne delivered to the suite at midnight, as well as overnight accommodations in the Triplex Penthouse Suite and limo transfers to and from the airport (com).
  • The Surrey is launching a new package, Champagne Wishes to celebrate the holidays and toast the New Year in true luxury. Visitors who reserve a salon or suite during the holiday season will receive a child bottle of Veuve Cliquot, Champagne Truffles and a Champagne and Pearl Sugar treatment at the hotel’s Cornelia Spa (com).
  • During the month of December, The Loews Regency offers unique and festive holiday experiences including a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree, complimentary Hot Chocolate happy hour, complimentary kate spade new york pajamas, and carol performances every day in the lobby (com).

For a full holiday guide to New York City, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

 

 

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

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

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

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

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

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

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

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

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Dude!

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

Gift of Travel 

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

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

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

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Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

 

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel brings family together, forging relationships and bonds – whether it is siblings, parents with children, multi-generations – in a way that the everyday does not. Holiday travel is that much more special, building those lifelong memories as surely as the aromas of a holiday meal.

That’s because travel encompasses not just place, but activities and experiences that families share together, and perhaps even more significant, the luxury of spending time together.

Northstar, Lake Tahoe, California: Ski holiday brings the whole family together for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Northstar, Lake Tahoe, California: Ski holiday brings the whole family together for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider: a ski holiday is a superb activity to bring everyone together, not to mention getting cozy around a roaring fire– some of our favorite ski resorts include Okemo, Stratton Mountain, Smugglers Notch in Vermont; Heavenly and Northstar in Lake Tahoe; Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Winter Park in Colorado (check out Ski Colorado, www.ColoradoSki.com; Vail Resorts, snow.com; Ski Vermont, skivermont.com;  Ski New York, www.iskiny.com; Ski.com); cruising is a great way for families to travel together (check out www.cruisecritic.com, www.dunhilltraveldeals.com, cruisecompete.com, www.crowncruisevacations.com, cruising.org); a resort stay; dude ranch;  or a themepark resort holiday are essential to childhood (DisneyWorld, Universal, SeaWorld are among our favorites for the winter holidays). Historic Hotels of America are wonderful venues – they are stewards of tradition and heritage, after all, that provide just the right atmosphere to knit your own family tradition.

Or think about experiential, active, or adventure travel:  a family safari; London in search of Harry Potter; cycle on the Danube Bike Trail (great for families).

The best holiday destinations offer plenty of activities indoor and out, so no matter the weather, there is something enchanting to do. But there is more: they manage to create an entire atmosphere that leave everyone in the family with lifelong memories. Over the years, we have had magical winter holidays in such places. Here are some of our family’s favorites.

Gilded Age Holiday in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island is such a charming place any time of the year, but especially at Christmas. There is so much to do throughout the city, eminently walkable – ice skating on the harbor rink, boat rides to see seals, walking along the Cliff Walk, but the essence are visiting the Gilded Age mansions when you really feel yourself transported in time.

Beginning November 19, 2016 and running through January 2, 2017, The Preservation Society of Newport County offers music, tours,  visits from Santa Claus, model trains, antique toys and shopping at three of America’s most outstanding historic houses: The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms.

Each year new themes, ornaments and decorations are added to keep the experience fresh for returning visitors.  For 2016, there will be a total of 28 decorated Christmas trees throughout the three houses each decorated to coordinate with its setting.

New this year at The Breakers, the toy train display in the second floor loggia will focus on the Vanderbilts’ New York Central Railroad. Three model train sets, each different vintage reproductions of New York Central rail lines, will run through a grove of decorated Christmas trees. Nearby, display cases will exhibit memorabilia from the New York Central Railroad from the Preservation Society’s collection.

The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad.  Its interiors include rich marbles and gilded rooms, a 50-foot high Great Hall, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.

At The Elms, a Gilded Age streetscape theme in the ballroom will feature period sleighs and lanterns, mannequins wearing vintage clothing, trees and a topiary horse. Also on display in the house will be a collection of antique decorations and toys donated by Berwind family descendants.

The Elms is an elegant French-style chateau built in 1901 for Philadelphia coal magnate Edward J. Berwind.  It serves as a backdrop for monumental artworks, including wall-sized 18th century Venetian paintings and Chinese lacquer panels.  The Elms is situated on a 10-acre park with an elaborate sunken garden.

Marble House, a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt's climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the "Votes for Women" campaign, is one of the special venues for Newport Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marble House, a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women” campaign, is one of the special venues for Newport Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marble House was the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. Built and furnished at a reported cost of $11 million, it was the most lavish house in America when it opened in 1892.  It became a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women” campaign.   

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambience of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age.  These open house evenings allow guests to stroll at their leisure through the decorated house, listening to live holiday music and enjoying cookies, eggnog and cider.  Holiday Evenings at The Breakers are scheduled for Saturdays, November 26, December 3 and December 10, and new this year, two Friday evenings, December 23 and 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. On December 17, guests can enjoy a Holiday Evening DuetThe Elms and Marble House, and see both of those houses for the price of one, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Admission to Holiday Evenings is $35 in advance, $45 day-of the event.  Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free.  Preservation Society members enjoy reduced admission, $30 in advance, $35 day-of. More information, including the schedule of Holiday Evening entertainment, and advance tickets are available online at www.NewportMansions.org, or call (401) 847-1000.

A grand choice for accommodations is The Hotel Viking, nestled in the Historic Hill district on famed Bellevue Avenue. Once the summering destination of America’s wealthiest, the Hotel was opened in 1926 to accommodate their haute monde guests. With the most recent multi-million dollar renovation finished in 2007 this hotel is the perfect choice for a historic stay in the heart of Upscale Historic Newport Rhode Island. Hotel Viking is a member of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org).

Another is the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, a boutique hotel originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a scion of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The 1909 property is a vintage Newport mansion that has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning and top luxury hotel in Rhode Island. Today, as The Vanderbilt Grace, the mansion comprises a luxurious hotel with 33 rooms and luxury suites and a lavish spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor pools. The hotel features two restaurants including Muse (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt).

For a complete line-up of holiday and winter events, travel packages and last minute deals, visit Discover Newport, 800-326-6030, DiscoverNewport.org.

Quintessential New England

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. Some events charge admission. (visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

Skiing at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vt. © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vt. © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

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

A Capital Christmas

Washington DC is an ideal winter destination – so much that is fascinating to see inside, as well as enchanting places outside, and easy walks between the attractions that line the mall – National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, Museum of the American Indian, to list but a few. Break up museum visits with ice skating on the mall, a ride on the carousel and a visit to the National Zoo (reachable by metro).

Holiday Displays and Lights Galore: Among the elaborate displays:

  • ZooLights returns to brighten the paths throughout the National Zoo (Thru Jan. 1, closed December 24, 25, 31). More than 40 animated light installations as well as Panda Claus delight visitors (nationalzoo.si.edu/events/zoolights)
  • Character-guided candlelit tours of George Washington’s Mount Vernon welcome visitors to walk through the founding farmer’s mansion and try 18th century dancing and fireside caroling. Aladdin the Christmas camel, a nod to General Washington’s tradition of bringing a camel to his farm for the delight of his guests, will be in the barn. Christmas festivities November 25 – January 6. (Open 365 days of the year including Christmas and New Year’s, www.mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/activities-tours/christmas-at-mount-vernon)
  • The National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse kicks off a month of nightly musical performances at the site at dusk (through Jan. 1).
  • Georgetown Glow, the city’s only curated exhibition of contemporary light-art installations dot the historic riverfront neighborhood, Dec. 2-Jan 1, 6-10 pm nightly. (www.georgetownglowdc.com)

For details and assistance planning a trip, go to Destination DC, www.washington.org. There’s also a real-time concierge service (800-422-8644 between 9am-5pm) and lively social channels for tailored suggestions and inspiration.

Historic hotels in Washington include Willard Intercontinental Hotel, offering themed packages;  The Morrison-Clark Inn, The Jefferson, The Churchill, Henley Park Hotel, The Fairfax at Embassy Row, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection, The Capital Hilton,  and Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC (see historichotels.org). For an extraordinary bed-and-breakfast in a historic mansion home, Swann House, 1808 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-265-4414,  E-mail stay@swannhouse.com, www.swannhouse.com.

Christmas on the Potomac

A resort stay: Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A resort stay: Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get a full family resort experience (and still enjoy easy access to DC) with a stay at Gaylord National Resort which offers a dazzling array of holiday activities during its annual “Christmas on the Potomac” festival, including ICE! (Nov. 19, 2016-Jan. 1, 2017), this year with the theme, Christmas Around the World to showcase different cultures and their Christmas festivities.

Artisans from Harbin, China travel more than 6,000 miles to hand-carve more than two million pounds of colorful ice into larger-than-life ice sculptures to illustrate scenes celebrating the world’s diverse cultural traditions. Adults and kids alike also can enjoy two-story ice slides, an enchanting Parade of Toys, and larger-than-life ornaments. The 9 degrees attraction brings back The Frostbite Factory for its third year, allowing visitors to learn how the attraction is made through colorful sculptures, as well as to see an artisan carve live using chainsaws, ice picks. Pricing, advance purchase of tickets and hours can be found at  www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com.

In addition to ICE!Gaylord National offers a variety of other holiday attractions, dining events and more during its Christmas on the Potomac celebration.

New this year, guests can dine with their favorite Peanuts characters at Breakfast with Charlie Brown and Friends holiday meal. This one-of-a-kind, interactive character breakfast includes a delicious breakfast with Peanuts-themed dishes and tableside visits from Peanuts characters. During the meal, guests can pose for a photo with Charlie Brown and the Gang as a keepsake from the experience (extra fee).

Guests also can enjoy the return of The Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt. By finding all the scout elves hiding in the resort and solving the puzzles in the scavenger hunt booklet, families will reveal the elves’ names so they can get their Christmas magic. Guests who help the scout elves will receive a special prize.

New for 2016, Gaylord National Resort has an exclusive Build-A-Bear Workshop experience that lets guests build their very own furry winter friend—a cuddly, cute polar bear plush, designed for Gaylord Hotels, which can be personalized with cozy winter clothing and accessories.

Dancing Fountains are part of the Christmas on the Potomac festival at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing Fountains are part of the Christmas on the Potomac festival at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Additional holiday entertainment includes nightly holiday fountain shows with lasers and indoor snowfall, photos with Santa, an indoor train ride and attractions, gourmet holiday food and beverage offerings including a new Christmas Cookies Around the World class, winter spa treatments, gingerbread decorating and more.

Overnight packages are available that include unlimited priority entry to ICE!  priced from $199; and a Christmas on the Potomac Package, which includes one night room accommodations, tickets to ICE!  with unlimited, priority entry, $100 resort credit per night for hotel dining and Relâche Spa services; and souvenir ICE! photo, priced from $259.

For more information on Christmas on the Potomac at Gaylord National Resort or to book a package, visit www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com or call 301-965-4000 (201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, Maryland 20745, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wasgn-gaylord-national-resort-and-convention-center).

Celebrate with the DuPonts in Wilmington DE and the Brandywine

Spectacular lighting displays at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Spectacular lighting displays at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities – the DuPont Mansion all decorated, Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day). Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special.

Highlights include:

Yuletide at Winterthur (Nov 19, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017): Be dazzled by Henry du Pont’s 175-room home, decorated in holiday style. Tour the house and enchanting gardens (Winterthur.org).

Winterthur Galleries (thru Jan 8, 2017): The featured exhibit, “The Artists of Currier & Ives” lets you discover the extraordinary art of Fanny Palmer and Arthur Tait, two of the most prolific artists of Currier & Ives. Winterthur presents an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects of decorative and fine arts made or used in America from 1630 to 1860 (winterthur.org).

A Longwood Christmas (Nov 24, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017): Wander through half a million twinkling lights, thousands of poinsettias and magnificent Christmas trees. Listen as carolers share the sounds of the season. (Buy before you arrive; timed admission tickets required and are limited. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square,  PA 19348, longwoodgardens.org)

A Brandywine Christmas 2016 (Fri, Nov 25, 2016 – Sun, Jan 8, 2017) The museum celebrates the season with fabulous holiday displays including an extensive O-gauge model railroad, antique dolls from the collection of Ann Wyeth McCoy and thousands of whimsical “critter” ornaments on holiday trees.

Holidays at Hagley (Fri, Nov 25, 2016 – Sat, Jan 21, 2017): Lace decorations add to the ambiance of Hagley’s annual holiday exhibition. The theme this year at Eleutherian Mills residence is “A Feminine Touch.” Well-loved displays returning include the elaborate Twelfth Night celebration in the dining room and the Victorian library’s Christmas for children with its table-top tree surrounded by toys and games. (200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, DE 19807, 302-658-2400, www.hagley.org)

Herr’s Lights Up the Holiday Season (Nov 24, 2016-Jan 1, 2017): Ring in the holiday season with Herr’s celebrated annual holiday lights display. A family favorite, the free driving tour incorporates more than 400,000 sparkling lights. Classic family favorites include oversized falling snowflakes, delightfully hung Christmas balls, a nativity scene and the famous 12-foot wreath and giant bow adorning the snack factory warehouse. (271 Old Baltimore Pike, Nottingham, PA 19362, 800-284-7488, www.herrs.com)

Brandywine River Museum of Art Presents: Rural Modern (thru Jan 22, 2017): Rural Modern explores the adaptation of modernist styles to subject matter associated with the American countryside (www.brandywine.org/museum)

More details at www.brandywinevalley.com/events

Christmas Tours in Odessa and Old New Castle (December): In Old New Castle, the annual “Spirit of Christmas & A Dickens Experience” events feature carolers, street vendors and actors recreating street scenes straight out of “A Christmas Carol,” as private homes and historic sites open their decorated doors to sightseers. “Christmas in Odessa” features private house tours, craft sales, holiday concerts and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. (See details at www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday.)

Gift of Travel

A cruise offers delightful experiences and logistics for a family reunion Christmas holiday, © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A cruise offers delightful experiences and logistics for a family reunion Christmas holiday, © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Can’t get away for the holidays? Gifting a future trip is a dream come true for many on your list. Consider a spa getaway (spafinders.com), an adventure tour (see moralcompasstravel.info for ideas), a fantasy camp (baseball, Rock n Roll, Broadway), Outward Bound adventure, a chance to join a research expedition (Earthwatch), a river cruise, a cycling trip (see biketours.com). Many hotels and resorts have gift card and gift certificate programs that you pay for a certain dollar denomination that your recipient can use to pay for meals or activities; cruiselines (like Norwegian Cruises) make it easy to purchase gift cards in customizable denominations ($25 to $1000) that can be used for onboard experiences or even shore excursions. If you know of someone who is planning a trip, you can gift a sightseeing tour or some special experience.

At this time of year, keep in mind that many travel entities (Vail Resorts, hotel companies, cruiselines, tour operators) run Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.

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