Acting like a kid comes naturally to me, so I was totally ready to grab fun by the mouse ears last week for a 4-day getaway at Disney’s African-safari themed Animal Kingdom Lodge in Orlando. Since I was a previous guest I received a significant discount off the room, which had a remarkable Arusha Savanna view at the spacious Jambo House. Various exotic animals, such as giraffes, wildebeests, antelopes, zebras, and more roam freely on the 43-acre wildlife preserve. But no worries, lions are not part of the deal on the resort (Mickey would not want any unfortunate mishaps). Nothing beats gazing out of your balcony at graceful giraffes with coffee in hand. Sigh…
As a whole, the “cast members” at Animal Kingdom were very accommodating. The first night I struggled to sleep because of a lumpy mattress, so the next day after saying something to the front desk, a new one was promptly delivered to our room. Next night, Sleepy had nuthin’ on me.
We loved the bustling, lush property so much we decided to stay an extra night. However, Disney does not make it easy, which is just Goofy. I had to call the universal reservation line even though I was literally staring at the front desk. Because I booked a package with room, theme park pass and deluxe meal plan, we had to move rooms to get a comparable rate. But it was worth the shuffle. They totally hooked us up with another great savanna view.
We paid for a 1-day Park Hopper pass for all theme parks and planned on taking the monorail to Epcot later in the day to catch the IllumiNations fireworks show, but little ones can tire easily, so know your group, plan ahead and purchase accordingly. And if your child is a fan of the Disney Princesses, hit the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique and have lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table inside the castle. I had the vegetarian cassoulet and it was surprisingly delish!
At Disney, you can choose a meal plan and pay ahead for X amount of points for snacks, quick service meals with refillable drink mugs and/or full sit down meals. Or, you can simply pay as you go. Either way, Disney’s fare is pretty great. At Animal Kingdom, Boma was an African-inspired delight for breakfast, and Jiko was a gastronomic journey for dinner – the tender African perch and comprehensive South African wine list were worth dropping 2 meal plan points per person (cocktails extra). We also strayed off the property and had a great meal at the family style Hawaiian-themed Polynesian resort’s restaurant Ohana, which also accepted the meal plan, but we had already run out of points. They do go quickly when you fine dine.
If you’re going during high season when the kids are off from school, be prepared to shirk off ride lines or use the FastPass option as much as you can. The resorts, theme parks and surrounding areas (the free Disney BoardWalk is a must visit) are orchestrated to authentic synthetic perfection, so embrace your inner child and the sublime fantasy of Disney.
Oh, and don’t forget to look out for hidden Mickey’s. Spotting them is great fun, and they’re hidden everywhere!
Fasten your seat belts, folks…it’s time for sensory overload in Las Vegas, Nevada, a colorful playground smack in the middle of the blistering Mojave Desert. Every over-the-top venue is here for the taking, so embrace your inner cheese. This is Vegas, baby. And if you’re gonna do it right, just go all out.
The day I was supposed to depart, New York was being threatened by a major storm. Visions of cancelled flights in my head, I did the only thing a sane person would – leave a day earlier, pay exorbitant penalty fees and squeeze in just one more day at the luxurious Palazzo at the Venetian.
The real Venice is a true, unsurpassed marvel, and I’ve had the good fortune to visit twice. But I have to say, I loved the Vegas version. The suites were immense (try the $20 trick upon check-in). And although the Venetian’s canals were bright blue in contrast to the murky green/brown of the real deal, it was just so darned cool. Fake blue sky…a scaled down version of St. Mark’s square…costumed actors performing Italian songs…a creepy chalk white mime dude who pretended to be a statue…high end shops…bars and restaurants galore….it was fabulous. Eating gelato and watching the canals skim the water whilst tourists were serenaded was pretty romantic. And if you’ve had enough of the crowds and the ding! ding! dings! of slot machines, you can regroup in the pretty peaceful gardens throughout the immense property.
Seeing Love at the Mirage was another major highlight. I’m a huge Beatles fan, and watching Cirque du Soleil pay tribute to the Fab Four was extremely moving. And the food? Vegas is a culinary Mecca, but a sure bet is Bouchon, world-renowned chef Thomas Keller’s French restaurant located in the Venetian (one word: escargots). Exploring the strip, visiting neighboring hotels such as the Bellagio and the Wynn, going to the wax museum, shopping, and just chilling made for a fabulous 3-day getaway.
Next time I’d like to see Old Vegas and explore some off the beaten path venues, but one thing’s for sure, Las Vegas is always awake and in your face with options. And when the darned flight fares go down, I am so there.
Last weekend, we stayed at the Sheraton Tribeca on Canal Street, located blocks from historic Little Italy, Chinatown and Soho. The possibilities for things to do see and eat were endless. Ok, that applies to anywhere in NYC, really – just plop down somewhere and go crazy with options, but this locale was still pretty stellar.
First on the agenda was meandering through the West Village in search of boutique hotels. The mission? Locate. Drink beverage. Eat appetizer. Move on. Why? Well, think about it…if you’ve ever wanted to get a feel for a hotel in NYC but not commit to spending hundreds in room rates, that’s the next best thing. Our first stop was the Soho Grand Hotel. Super swank with lush decor, yet not stuffy. Starved, we ordered the large cheese plate, which had a nice selection of blue, cheddar, goat, parmigiana and brie, along with some sliced apples, honey and nuts. Totally full, we vowed no more snacks until dinner. Yes, even I have my limits, but we weren’t quite done with our boutique hotel trolling…
Next stop was 60 Thompson also in Soho. The Thom Bar had a low lit cool, youthful vibe with hip décor, Victorian style couches and funky chandeliers. It wasn’t crowded, so late afternoon is an ideal time to hotel hop. I picked the bartender’s brain for our next stop, but he was new in town, so I made the executive decision to shift gears and head to The Spotted Pig, a gastropub in the West Village. I had gnudi (the “g” is silent) on the brain – and no, I’m not getting fresh. The Pig’s sheep’s milk gnudi are light and airy ricotta creation prepared in brown butter and sage and floored me the first time I had them. But I called ahead and there was an hour and a half wait for a table. Not uncommon for a Gnudi-needy New York. Yes, they are that good! I must go back. And soon.
Now pretty famished, we again changed course and took a short cab ride to Eataly in the Flatiron district, a bustling Italian marketplace with restaurants. A cornucopia of high quality gourmet delights, it’s total organized chaos. Counters are sectioned off in meat, fish, cheese, bread, pasta, vegetables, baked goods, gelato and more, all freshly prepared. We decided to dine at Dave Pasternack’s (of Esca fame) Il Pesce, which turned out to be an excellent call. Protected from marketplace madness, we passed up counter seats and were tucked safely in a corner. My Boo enjoyed a lightly fried seafood platter (almost as good as my grandmothers) and Italian light beer. I opted for an amazing a seafood salad and peach-flavored brew, a perfect accompaniment to my light dish. I did seagull his plate every now and again, but you have to understand…the fried fish was so light, crispy and flavorful I couldn’t help myself.
The next day’s menu? A rooftop continental breakfast at our hotel while playfully arguing over bridge names, followed by New York pizza and organic coconut popsicles for dessert while strolling the new section of High Line Park, a former food “railroad” in the meatpacking district. How apropos.I ate New York. And I’d do it again. Stay tuned for Gnudi, the sequel.
I gotta say, cruise ships are pretty remarkable. These ginormous floating cities pretty much have every amenity a traveler could want, and then some. And unless you want to cruise to a far-off or remote destination, I highly recommend leaving from a port close to home. It saves on legwork and more importantly, airfare.
Sailing on the Norwegian Gem from New York was pretty neat, as was traveling with immediate family. And while the mini-suites could be a tad too confining even for the Cleavers, the ship was large enough to get lost somewhere cool and interesting, such as the bowling alley, or the giant slide, or the gym, or maybe even the casino.
Libations, extra-special activities, the spa, and the more upscale restaurants are extra, but cruising these days is an overall great value. Just don’t forget the Dramamine (…and on the 7th day…the ship was a-rockin’ back to New York!).
This article was written for JOURNEYS magazine, which consumers can find at travel agencies across the nation. This publication is way cool and chock full of ideas for even the well-seasoned adventurer.
One of my favorite things to do is visit the North Fork of Long Island. I fell in love with the region about 12 years ago when pumpkin picking during harvest season. Fall was in the air, along with the smell of roasted corn, Briermere’s pies and festive music coming from Palmer Vineyards. The strum of banjos beckoned our group inside.
I remember sitting on the deck that day with glass of wine in hand, listening to sweet harmonies while I gazed out on the perfectly placed rows of plump red and white grapes. While the sun warmed my face I thought, “Does it get any better than this?” Actually, it did. The only thing that was missing was baguettes and cheese. So, on my next visit to the NOFO, I loaded up on goodies from the Village Cheese Shop in Cutchogue on Love Lane prior to vineyard hopping. I explored the area more and more each time I went out, and there was always more to see.
Some years after I took a job writing for the Long Island Wine Gazette, and I discovered more vineyards, met important winemakers and covered some monumental vineyard events. I began to learn all about the wine making process. And I tasted a lot of wine because that’s the only way to learn each grape’s distinct characteristics. It takes lots of practice, but I’m willing to devote even more time on the NOFO and continue to taste, taste, taste. Ah, the sacrifices we make for love…