The iconic Algonquin Hotel in New York City

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

The Algonquin first opened its doors in 1902. Today, it is part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection, an evolving ensemble of strikingly independent hotels. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character, and uncommon details. The result is an array of properties that is nothing less than unique. The Algonquin Hotel was the first New York City property to become a part of the collection.   

For well more than 100 years, the Algonquin has been greeting and lodging the country’s most prominent writers and literary personalities, as well as the leading figures of the American stage. The hotel is best known, perhaps, for the members of the Round Table, a group of luminaries who had in common both the ability to fire blazing witticisms and to withstand being on the receiving end of them.

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. “By force of character,” observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”

This year marks the centennial of the Round Table and as a result special programming took place all summer long. We were there to take in some of the festivities

Comfortable accommodations

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

Each of the 181 rooms and 25 suites features a comfortable well-lit work desk, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. We stayed in a very comfortable one bedroom Heywood Broun Suite, named for the noted American journalist, sportswriter and newspaper columnist in New York City who founded the American Newspaper Guild.

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

The layout was ideally suited for us. There is a nice sized entrance, with the master bedroom to the left featuring a nice-sized bathroom. The spacious living room has a pullout couch, a large desk which was perfect for me to write my stories and good drawer and cupboard space. You can get a fridge and a microwave, depending upon availability and on request.

When you enter the hotel, you come face to face with the casual Lobby Lounge, along with The Round Table Restaurant. Just to the left is the hotel’s trendy and aptly named Blue Bar.

The Algonquin Cat

As a cat lover, I was of course excited to see Hamlet VIII, the three year-old orange cat who calls The Algonquin his home. According to hotel executive assistant Alice De Almeida, he was originally a feral cat found in Long Island and brought to the Bide-a-wee shelter (the oldest shelter in the Big Apple), where the Algonquin then adopted him as their own. He came to the hotel in July 2017 after their former cat, Matilda III, retired. “He is so friendly and loveable that people who never liked cats love him.” Alice says proudly. “He has great purrsonality!”

I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.alogonquinhotel.com). It is always our first choice when visiting New York City. Located on 44th Street near 6th Avenue, walk out the front door and you are a block and a half away from Times Square.

Joanna Szepietowska is the recently appointed rooms operations manager at the hotel. She admitted to me that she was not much of a cat lover before coming to work here, but Hamlet has changed that in a big way. She is looking into adopting her own cat now.

Hamlet has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as an email account.  “I take care of all his needs, front and back, vet visits and more,” says Alice.

Alice  has three cats of her own at home and feeds several ferals in her area. She came to work at this hotel in 2005 and quickly became the natural guardian of the resident cats. “I have become a real Jewish mother to our cats,” she laughs.

Based on the timeline of a book written by the hotel’s first general manager, the hotel is now proud to say that the lineage of The Algonquin Cat dates back to the early 1920s. Two days after this first cat, Billy, passed, another stray cat wandered into the hotel and The Algonquin welcomed Rusty. The famous classical actor, John Barrymore, best known for playing Hamlet on stage, was a resident at the time in the early 1930s, and Rusty was renamed Hamlet in his honor. The lineage thus far now includes eight Hamlets and three Matildas. Each cat that has reigned at The Algonquin has been a rescue.

The hotel’s executive chef cooks Hamlet special meals on holidays. He receives fan mail and gifts constantly from around the world. He has recently been the subject of a painting that hangs above the Front Desk, by New York artist Marcus Pierno. Hamlet can often be found at the front desk, in one of his two tree houses or prancing through the lobby. He has been trained to never go outside and is wonderful with everyone who wants to pet him.

Cat Fashion Show

Every August The Algonquin hosts an annual Cat Fashion Show to raise money for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The event  brings together the city’s most fashionable felines to strut their stuff in one-of-a-kind outfits that coincide with  different themes – the 2019 edition being “It’s a Small World.”   Hamlet VIII is naturally the star.

The spectacle begins with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts; a silent auction featuring a variety of kitty-centric items; an on-site mobile adoption unit in front of the hotel that day and of course NYC cats hitting the catwalk in opulent threads designed by legendary pet fashion designer Ada Nieves. Human guests are encouraged to wear their most eccentric, feline-inspired outfit and share photos from the un-fur-gettable night on social media using the hashtag #AlgonquinCat.

A total of 100 percent of proceeds benefits the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit charity that works with more than 150 partner rescue groups and shelters to offer important programs and services that save the lives of NYC’s homeless animals. A raffle raises additional funds throughout the evening, with prizes including a variety of pet products curated by the event’s co-chair, pet lifestyle expert and author Sandy Robins.

Hamlet can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  He can also be reached via email: hamletalgonquincat@algonquinhotel.com.

The Algonquin Hotel is located at 59 W 44th Street, New York, New York 10036. www.algonquinhotel.com. For information call 212-840-6800.

Yes, “Believe it or not,” New York has downtown “Dream” pool

BEACH AT DREAM DOWNTOWN: Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Channeling the glamour of the Côte d’Azur in the heart of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, my family and I were most fortunate to be invited to spend the day there. We have been to New York in the summer a number of times in recent years and frankly always sought a day at a pool on a hot and steamy day. Well we hit the jackpot for our chosen date. Community and Social Media Manager Lauren Saxe gave me a tour of the gorgeous facility and then set my family up with some chairs in a perfectly shaded area. Tabitha, a lifeguard who was busy managing the steady stream of sunbathers, was kind enough to get us an umbrella.  There is a restaurant right next to the pool and servers will bring food and drinks right to your chair. The water was warm and exceptionally comfortable. Any of our troubles seemed a million miles away for that afternoon. There was complimentary Wi-Fi with a good signal as well.

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Pool passes are available to the public Monday to Friday from 11 am to 8 pm. They cost $65 a day per person, and guests can purchase them on site from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Hotel guests can access the facility from 8 am to 8 pm daily.

There is another Dream Hotel in Midtown Manhattan as well as locations in Miami, Hollywood, Nashville, Thailand and many more to come. Dream Hotel Group is a hotel brand and management company with a rich, 30-year history of managing properties in some of the world’s most highly competitive hotel environments. Home to its Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal and Unscripted Hotels brands, Dream Hotel Group encompasses three business lines: proprietary brands, hotel management and dining & nightlife. 

This downtown location opened in June 2011 with a celebrity VIP party which included the likes of actor Leonardo Di Caprio on hand.

Dream Downtown Hotel is located at 355 West 16th Street near 9th Avenue. For more information call 646-625-4828, Info: www.dreamhotelgroup.com. Or email frontoffice@dreamdowntown.com

RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: I have previously visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not! In Niagara Falls and London, England.  Despite walking by the place every time I was in the Big Apple, I never ventured inside what is recognized as a historic Times Square museum. This one-of-a-kind attraction welcomes visitors to immerse themselves in the unusual, the unexpected and the unbelievable. It features a collection of over 500 unusual artifacts from all over the world, as well as amazing interactive exhibits that are sure to make you say “WOW!”

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square (https://ripleysnewyork.com) showcases some of the most incredible exhibits found in New York City, many of them discovered and owned by Robert Ripley himself!  This family friendly attraction is the largest Ripley’s in North America!

Robert L. Ripley was a cartoonist, explorer, reporter, adventurer, and collector who traveled to 201 countries in 35 years seeking the odd, the unusual, and the unexplained. He led a life of adventure and excitement, and he will forever be remembered for coining the phrase “believe It or not.”

In his search for incredible stories to draw in his popular newspaper cartoons, he acquired hundreds of exotic artifacts from around the world. Collections of his newspaper cartoon drawings were released in book form. The success of his first book led to a live radio show, and then to a weekly television program. He shared his unique artifacts at World Fairs in exhibits called odditoriums, which were the precursor to the museums that bear his name and famous phrase. but none are more unique or more interesting than Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square!

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square is the largest Ripley’s attraction in the world. From shrunken heads, Megaldon jaws, a Tibeton skull, the world’s tallest man and a real meteor the amazement never ceases in this place.

All children must be accompanied by an adult. Most guests spend between an hour and a half to two hours exploring the strange and unique artifacts, exhibits and interactive experiences at Ripley’s Times Square. As with any attraction or museum, your personal tastes will determine how long it takes. If you plan to dive into every item and read each caption, you’ll be here a bit longer. If you plan to focus on featured galleries, you will find that two hours is sufficient. I found the visit both educational and entertaining,

Ripley’s personal treasures can be seen in Believe It or Not! attractions around the world. Each museum is unique in its collection of oddities and in their presentation. No Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum would be complete without the “old favorites” however – the incredible people whose stories Ripley gathered on his journeys around the globe. These strange people are brought back to life in detailed wax figures.

Ripley’s Times Square is handicapped accessible.

NATIONAL SEPTEMBER 11 MEMORIAL: Through commemoration, exhibitions and educational programs, The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a nonprofit in New York City, remembers and honors the 2,983 people killed in the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, as well as those who risked their lives to save others and all who demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath of the attacks.  I visited Ground Zero on my most recent trip and it is absolutely chilling to stand in that very spot where terrorists committed a most unspeakable atrocity. Info: https://www.911memorial.org/national-september-11-memorial-museum

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

RUPERT JEE: For 22 years Rupert Jee was a regular on Late Night with David Letterman on CBS – all because  he operated a deli (The Hello Deli) right next to the Ed Sullivan Theatre. These days Rupert remains busy running his deli and meeting with his fans, so when you’re in New York, don’t forget to stop in for lunch at 213 West 53rd Street! He’ll even sell you a t-shirt or mug to remember him by.  I dropped in and got to meet Rupert in person. What a friendly guy. Naturally the Letterman appearances were great for business. Now that Dave has retired, Rupert still benefits from the recognition. Log on to https://www.hello-deli.com.

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

NEW YORK YANKEES:  I checked off a major item on my Bucket List with an afternoon in the Yankee Stadium press box as New York hosted the Toronto Blue Jays.

Only a year after they changed Baseball forever with the purchase of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees made another buy that would forever change the way the game was watched.  On February 6, 1921, the Yankees issued a press release to announce the purchase of 10 acres of property in the west Bronx.  Yankee Stadium was built from 1922 to 1923 for $2.4 million ($33.9 million in 2016 dollars).

The stadium went through many alterations and playing surface configurations over the years. The condition of the facility worsened in the 1960s and 1970s, prompting its closing for renovation from 1974 to 1975. In 2006, the Yankees began building a new $2.3 billion stadium. It opened in 2009.

Have you ever heard about New York City’s most unique hotel pool — The Beach at Dream Downtown?  The famed 4,800-square-foot beach boasts private cabanas, fresh sand imported from the Hamptons, flat-screen TVs, lounge chairs and a glass-bottom swimming pool looking into the hotel lobby. One side of this upscale 300 room hotel closely resembles that of a cruise ship.

Yankee Stadium is located at One East 161st Street in the Bronx. The No. 4 train (East Side) and the B and D trains (West Side) make stops at 161st Street/Yankee Stadium. A trip from Midtown Manhattan takes approximately 25 minutes. I would strongly recommend it.

Vdara Hotel & Spa and the Park MGM stand out in exciting Las Vegas

By Alexandra Cohen

LAS VEGAS – There is no question about it. The City of Las Vegas, Nevada (https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ca) has everything that a vacationer could possibly ask for: concerts, shows, sports, shopping, dining, nightlife, golf, spas, adventure, luxury accommodations, and much more.

Having just returned from our second trip in the last four years, I am already counting down the days until I can go back.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at the gorgeous Vdara Hotel & Spa, a luxury boutique property located at CityCenter.  

An all-suite hotel and spa designed for those who love the excitement of Vegas, but prefer to enjoy it in a smaller and more exclusive, non-gaming, smoke-free environment, Vdara is physically connected to the Bellagio and directly adjacent to the Aria Resort & Casino, offering access to all of the amenities and energy of CityCenter while also providing a nearby retreat from the hustle and bustle of the strip.

The Vdara made its big debut in December 2009. Internationally-inspired, the chic boutique resort offers a holistic spa, luxurious pool, intimate meeting space, and the sophisticated and convenient Vice Versa Patio & Lounge and Market Café Vdara, both located in their small and easy-to-navigate lobby.

Designed by RV Architecture, LLC, led by Rafael Vinoly, Vdara’s distinct crescent shape and unique patterned glass creates a striking design statement. Soaring 57 stories, Vdara has 1,495 suites ranging from 500 to 1,650 square feet.  It also boasts some outstanding amenities, including its spa. From early morning to late evening, Vdara Health & Beauty, its 16,000-square-foot, two-level wellness spa, salon and fitness complex, soothes and rejuvenate guests. David Glass, the internationally acclaimed innovator behind the Bellagio’s AAA Four Diamond restaurant Sensi,  serves as executive chef for all of Vdara’s food and beverage offerings.

Featuring 10,000 square feet of contemporary conference space, Vdara has become the premier choice in Las Vegas for customized executive meetings, corporate, social, and banquet functions for up to 400 guests.  The Pool & Lounge, a beautiful getaway that we had the chance to experience firsthand, also features 19 luxurious cabanas, including six spa cabanas.

While at the Vdara people have the opportunity to experience what is surely a first in many of their lives: snacks and coffee delivered to their rooms by two relay robots by the names of Fetch and Jett. These talented bots work alongside their human colleagues to transport an array of frequently forgotten and requested amenities including shaving and dental kits as well as tasty bites and drinks from Market Café. 

Designed and built by robot developer Savioke, Fetch and Jett are fully autonomous indoor delivery robots that use advanced technology to seamlessly navigate around people and objects. I watched them travel through the hotel lobby myself, and each time, those passing by stopped to take photos and marvel. The robots can prioritize multiple requests and wirelessly communicate with the hotel’s systems – even operating the elevators autonomously. Upon receiving a request, a hotel employee will load items into the robot’s compartment before inputting the guest’s room number and hitting the “GO” button. Its secure, tamper-proof lid prevent items from being removed until the robot reaches its destination.

Fetch and Jett will call a guest’s room when they arrive, and once the door opens, their lids will automatically unlock for guests to retrieve their snacks and travel kits. After removing their items, Fetch and Jett will ask the guest for feedback on their service before traveling back to their docking stations – typically taking less than five minutes to complete a delivery. A five-star review inspires a short happy dance from the robot.

As a hat-tip to the property’s dog-friendly policy, Fetch and Jett’s exterior resembles the coats of different canine breeds. The helpful (and housebroken) robots provide a fun and refined experience for guests at the hotel and spa.

“Guests enjoy the novelty of having their morning coffee and other items delivered by a robot, which frees up time for the rest of our staff to focus their energy on requests that require a higher level of service,” said Vdara General Manager Mary Giuliano. “We’re committed to creating special experiences for each guest, and I’m certain this will be a memorable one.”

In addition to the small snacks and drinks that can be delivered by Fetch and Jett, the hotel also delivers on a full in-suite dining experience should guests be interested, bringing not only food, but a full table setting for all. We enjoyed some breakfast in our room, including delicious eggs, an omelette, breakfast potatoes, and an assortment of tasty croissants and danishes.

Vdara is located within one of the largest sustainable developments in existence, bringing a new level of environmental consciousness to the world-famous Strip. In addition to Vdara, the U.S. Green Building Council has awarded LEED® Gold certification to ARIA Resort & Casino’s hotel tower as well as its convention space and theater. In 2010, Vdara Hotel & Spa and ARIA become the first Las Vegas hotels to achieve a 5 Keys designation by the Green Key Eco-Rating Program – the foremost “green” ranking, certification, and audit program in North America evaluating sustainable hotel operations. The 5 Keys designation is a certification level achieved by only approximately one percent of all hotels rated by Green Key.

We were pleased to see that our Corner Suite offered us a lovely view of some of the hotels on the Strip. Other similar suites offer picturesque views of the Bellagio Fountains and surrounding mountains. The in-suite tablet sits right beside the King-sized bed. From this tablet, you can order room service or snacks to be delivered by Fetch and Jett, and also book your next spa appointment.

The kitchenette features a two-burner stove and a full-sized refrigerator, while the living area offers a dining table fit for four. You can end the day by soaking in the spa-like tub sitting in the room’s expansive bathroom.  There are 42-inch, flat-screen, and high – definition televisions with media hubs for MP3 players, cameras, DVD players and game consoles as well as a work desk with a multi-line telephone in each of these suites. We also had access to large closets with plush robes and slippers, an ironing board and clothes steamer, and a washing machine.  The in-suite, laptop-sized electronic safes were also very convenient.

The hotel has a fully equipped 2,000-square-foot fitness center, with cardio, exercise machines, and free weights, as well as personal trainers available for private or group instruction. A smoothie bar offers a selection of smoothies, nutritious snacks, and juices.

The Vdara lobby is quite nice and spacious. Above the registration desk hangs the 30-foot-long horizontal Frank Stella painting, Damascus Gate Variation I,”which draws immediate attention with its vibrant shades of blue, red, orange and yellow. Due to Vdara’s boutique size, nearly all of its spectacular amenities are just steps from the main entrance. Guests have immediate access to its meeting and social event space; registration desk; concierge lobby; and its casual eatery and marketplace, Market Café Vdara. At the heart of the lobby experience, VICE VERSA Patio & Lounge radiates an aura of sophistication.

Within Vdara’s concierge lobby, Peter Wegner displays two soaring lunar- and solar-themed works of art on opposite walls entitled, “Day for Night, Night for Day.”Three stories above, an open wooden walkway offers a new vantage point of the artwork, as guests peer down into the lobby. On the second level of the hotel, guests can enjoy ESPA at Vdara, Salon Vdara, and Pool & Lounge Vdara.

Wheelchairs and scooters are available at all MGM Resort hotels for a fee. At the Vdara, in fact, manual wheelchairs are available for rent free of charge. To guarantee a wheelchair or scooter, contacting the Bell Desk ahead of time is recommended.

For more information and reservations, log on to www.vdara.com, call toll free at (866) 745-7767 or 702.590.2111. follow Vdara on Facebook and Twitter at Vdara  Las Vegas and VdaraLV.

BAVETTE AND THE PARK MGM: The former Monte Carlo Hotel officially shed its name recently for a new identity – The Park MGM (https://www.parkmgm.com/en.htm).   A partnership between Sydell Group and MGM Resorts International, Park MGM was born from the collaborative vision of the New York-based lifestyle hotelier and one of the world’s preeminent destination resort developers. The project comprises two new distinct experiences: Park MGM, and a Las Vegas version of the renowned NoMad, a standalone 292-room hotel encompassing the tower’s top four floors.

We got a nice look at this new hotel when we recently dined at Bavette’s Steakhouse (www.bavettessteakhouse.com). Like its beloved Chicago sibling, the new Bavette’s represents an outstanding dining experience. With the restaurant’s glowing chandeliers, red banquettes, and vintage art and murals, guests are transported to an intimate space as they eat.

Bavette’s offers fantastic takes on some time-honored steakhouse traditions, such as multi-tiered seafood towers, dry-aged bone-in ribeyes, and lamb chops. In addition to some of the classics, we also enjoyed a traditional filet mignon, a large baked crap cake, and side orders of wild mushrooms and buttery mashed potatoes, all beautifully served.

Desserts leaned toward decadent—we enjoyed the Chocolate Cream pie with an Oreo crust, as well as their classic Lemon-Meringue Pie.

In the back of Bavette’s, a hidden parlor bar awaits guests who want to begin their evening early, or let it run late, exploring the cornucopia of cocktails that they have to offer.

The elegant landscape in complemented by a boisterous measure of classic big band jazz and vintage blues tunes in the main dining room.

Bavette’s is open 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m. – midnight Friday and Saturday; and 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations can be made by calling 702.730.6700.

Before or after dinner at Bavette’s, explore the stylish Juniper Cocktail Lounge next door, a truly unique drinking experience that I very much enjoyed. The mixology destination challenges the status quo of mainstay drinks while staying true to the foundation of what makes a great cocktail. Whimsical elements like fortune-telling Gin & Tonics come to life through house-made juices and syrups, a premium selection of spirits, and an intense dedication to the craft.

“Juniper Cocktail Lounge brings a different perspective to the Las Vegas lounge with a more progressive cocktail program than people have experienced from such a venue,” said Craig Schoettler, MGM Resorts executive director of beverage and corporate mixologist. .

Set to become a key component of Las Vegas nightlife, Juniper Cocktail Lounge offers its distinct vision of bottle service for guests with an extensive selection of gins, whiskeys, tequilas and rums from around the globe. No sacrifices are made for the large-scale service as patrons have access to some of the world’s finest liquors at their private tables.

We enjoyed their most famous cocktail, entitled “A little birdie”, in which the sipsmith gin, strawberry, dolin dry vermouth, and fresh lemon are interestingly served in a glass shaped like a bird. We also enjoyed “Carnival”—a glass is brought to the table filled to the brim with cotton candy, at which point Tanqueray 10 gin, fresh lime, and St-Germain is poured over the cotton candy, causing it to melt in as part of the drink. The menu options were endless, each one appearing to be better than the one before it.

Juniper Cocktail Lounge is open Sunday – Thursday from 5 p.m. – 12 a.m. and Friday – Saturday from 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. For more information, call 702-730-7777 or visit Juniper Cocktail Lounge online. Explore the nightly happenings and more by following Juniper Cocktail Lounge on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @JuniperCocktail.

Filled with natural light and punctuated by nature-inspired décor and art, Park MGM’s lobby is a nod to urban gardens and parks, bringing the outdoors inside. A dramatic arboreal sculpture by Brazilian woodworker Henrique Oliveira is the focal point of the lobby.

Park MGM’s rooms evoke the essence of a private apartment, with a mix of thoughtful touches, antique-inspired pieces, and original artwork by artists and photographers from around the world, commissioned for each room by France’s be-pôles studio.

Channeling the sundrenched South of France, the hotel’s vibrant outdoor escape features three pools, an oversized heated spa, 12 cabanas, lounge areas, and multiple bars serving up delicious bites and beverages.

Park MGM’s remodeled casino floor reflects the resort’s outdoor inspiration. In keeping with Sydell Group’s vision for maintaining key elements of the former space, the casino’s design contains subtle nods to its Monte Carlo roots, including the refined sparkling chandeliers.

With its excellent central location, Park MGM offers guests direct access to what is quickly becoming the city’s premier entertainment district, featuring T-Mobile Arena, The Park, and Park Theater, which is now home to Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas residency.

Las Vegas Dining Tips: Catch, Spago and the Caesars Palace Buffet

By Alexandra Cohen

LAS VEGAS- When in Las Vegas (https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ca), there are no shortage of fantastic restaurants to choose from. Here are a few suggestions from my most recent  trip.

CATCH THIS GREAT  MEAL:  Last fall, the Aria Resort & Casino (https://www.aria.com/en.html) welcomed Catch (https://catchrestaurants.com),the go-to dining destination for celebrities from Los Angeles to New York City. Known for attracting A-listers from around the world, this restaurant, with its Asian influence, debuted on The Strip, bringing with it a something-for-everyone dining experience.

Just arriving at Catch is a true experience. The entryway is a truly picturesque 80-foot-long tunnel, filled with brightly colored flowers organized into beautiful patterns. It feels like stepping into a secret garden, or even a hidden world.

On the menu, you will find a host of seafood sharables. Guests can dive in with an assortment of bright appetizers. The Catch Ceviche infuses the bold flavors of mango and blood orange ponzu with Alaskan King Crab, Maine Lobster, shrimp, and scallops. We enjoyed the decadent Truffle Sashimi allows guests to indulge in both tuna and hamachi paired with chili ponzu, caviar, and rich black truffle purée.

In addition to their Vegas-specific sushi rolls, Catch also offers its famed signatures. The vegan Veggie King Roll is made with king oyster mushrooms, cashew and spicy miso. For a unique and delicious flavor profile, guests can opt for the Hellfire Roll, which uses spicy tuna in two ways with Asian pear and balsamic.

We also enjoyed other shared starters, including the crispy shrimp, the rice cakes, and an order of their mushroom spaghetti, which was truly delicious. For our main course: roasted branzino, a restaurant highlight, alongside a side of spaghetti squash. Prefer meat? Catch offers options like the 25-Day Dry-Aged Tomahawk: 36-ounces of all natural, grass-fed beef with caramelized onion wagyu butter.

Their over-the-top desserts celebrate indulgence, featuring treats like the Hit Me” Chocolate Cake that encourages guests to smash the liquid “Klondike” bar perched atop a brownie, devil’s food cake, and roasted white chocolate ice cream.

New York based restauranteurs Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum have spent two decades building Catch Hospitality Group into one of the country’s most successful restaurant and nightlife management companies. Dubbed by Forbes Magazine as the “New Kings of New York Hospitality,” Remm and Birnbaum pioneered dynamic hospitality experiences using food, service, and vibe to create seamless transitions between dining, nightlife, and entertainment.

“After successfully tackling the East and West Coast markets we feel that Las Vegas is the next most logical place for the CATCH brand to call home,” Birnbaum told Food & Wine. “As with all CATCH outposts, we will stay true to the identity of the brand in both design and core menu, while working to develop location-specific additions that speak to the interests in the local market and its anticipated clientele. For CATCH Las Vegas that will mean some elevated moments that kick our experiential menu up a notch, without being too over the top that we stray from who we are as a concept.”

See this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLv0BXnJGTs

Catch is located within the main lobby of the Aria Resort & Casino. It is open for dinner Monday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. The lounge is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 p.m. – 3 a.m. To make reservations, call the Aria Concierge at (702) 590-5757 or visit OpenTable.

LUNCH AT SPAGO: We had a delicious lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s legendary flagship restaurant Spago (https://wolfgangpuck.com/dining/spago-lv), located at the Bellagio (https://www.bellagio.com/en/hotel.html). Puck’s revolutionary restaurant debuted in this location last summer with an entirely new look and menu and the exceptional level of service for which the restaurant is best known.

The restaurant is beautifully situated in front of the Bellagio Fountains for a fantastic view while you eat. Spago’s re-imagined menu features Puck’s signature California fare paired with modern technique and inspiration from his chef’s weekly trips to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. At lunch and dinner, the market-driven menus feature handmade pastas, wood-oven pizzas, fresh seafood, all-natural meats and prime steaks, alongside handcrafted cocktails and a robust wine list.

From popular Spago dishes to new dishes offered only at Bellagio, guests have a wealth of options to choose from for lunch or dinner.

The chefbrings his own signature to the Las Vegas steak dinner, allowing guests to indulge in prime meats, such as Wagyu and Japanese Ribeye carved tableside. In addition to trying one of their delicious cuts of American wagyu, complete with white truffles, we also indulged in their smoked salmon pizza with caviar, a true highlight on their menu. We enjoyed a fresh strawberry cocktail as we sat on the patio enjoying the fountains, along with a dessert that I can only describe as outstanding: their Spiked Lemon. Words cannot do this desert any justice, but you need only take to the internet to see it for yourself, as our waiter described as their menu’s “Most Hash tagged Item” due to its astonishing appearance, complete with flakes of gold.

Similar to the menu, the wine list will be seasonally inspired, starting the summer months with a strong selection of Rosé wines. In addition, the list features nearly one dozen wines from Wolfgang Puck’s private label, a collection of food-friendly wines that celebrate the spirit of food and life for which the chef is known.

Spago commissioned Las Vegas artist Katie Lewis to create a series of 20 topographical map images inspired by the Nevada desert landscape. One wall of the restaurant is dedicated to “Hugging a Black Hole, Hoping One Day to Forget,” a piece crafted by Jacob Hashimoto, known for his three-dimensional wall hangings inspired by his Japanese heritage. The most coveted seats are positioned on the circular and covered outdoor patio, giving guests unobstructed front-row views to the magnificent fountains.

Gelila Puck said, “The fountains were everything for us. We used the water as a key element in the design of the restaurant, bringing the beautiful feature to the forefront of the dining experience from the moment our guests enter the restaurant. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows highlight the grandeur of the space while distinct dining spaces meld classic architecture with modern art, all creating an atmosphere as memorable as the food.”

As for the main dining room, this space boasts beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows imparting picturesque views of the Bellagio’s famed lake from any seat in the house. Spago also offers two private fountain-view dining rooms, each seating up to 20 guests. The private rooms feature translucent glass panels with elegant white sheers that act as filters, allowing guests to enjoy their privacy while being able to fully take in their surroundings.

Spago is located in Via Bellagio and is open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. – 2:45 p.m. Dinner is from 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m Sunday – Thursday and 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. The bar menu is available from 2:45 p.m. until close. To make reservations, call the Bellagio Concierge at (702) 693-7111 or visit OpenTable.

CAESARS PALACE BUFFET: What would a visit to Las Vegas be like without spending some time at the famous Caesars Palace? As famous as Las Vegas itself, this spot is perhaps the best-known casino resort in the world. What began as a grand casino honoring the indulgent luxuries of ancient Rome has somehow evolved into something even more spectacular. 

Caesars Palace spans 85-acres at the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, just 10-minutes from McCarran International Airport. During our trip, we experienced a fantastic dinner at their Bacchanal Buffet—voted the Best Buffet in Las Vegas by USA Today two years in a row. I was unsurprised to hear that they were given this title when I realized that their buffet presents nine distinct restaurants, all in one location!

The modern setting of the buffet is inspired by the elements of glass, wood and steel. With nearly 500 dishes to choose from, every guest is sure to satisfy their cravings, whether they are in the mood for prime rib, chilled king crab legs, or freshly made sushi. A team of seven specialized chefs oversee the preparation of the majority of the food in front of the guests, creating an interactive environment.

The cuisines offered include:

  • Mexican – featuring freshly made enchiladas, tortillas and more
  • Italian – Pastas, baked lasagna, antipasto display
  • Chinese – Made-to-order assorted soups, wok-fried dishes, and dim sum
  • Japanese – Fresh sushi, sashimi, cooked fish
  • American – BBQ house-smoked meats from a wood-burning smoker and wood-burning grill; numerous carving stations including prime rib, brisket, rotisserie chicken and more
  • Seafood – Fresh East and West Coast oysters, king crab, snow crab, stone crab, mussels and prawns
  • Pizza – Varieties of pizzas served fresh from a wood-burning oven
  • Deli – Soups, cheeses, seven charcuterie selections including house specialties and individual, prepared, and make-your-own salads
  • Dessert – Chocolate, vanilla and pistachio soufflés baked-to-order, selection of gelato, sorbets

The Weekday Brunch is $39.99 (Mon-Fri 7:30 am – 3 pm.); The Weekend Brunch is $54.99 (Sat-Sun 8am – 3pm); Weekday Dinner is  $54.99  (Mon-Thur 3p m – 10 pm); and Weekend Dinner is $64.99 (Fri-Sun 3pm – 10pm). For an additional $15 per person, add the All You Can Drink option and receive unlimited Draft Beer, House Wine, Mimosas, or Champagne. 

There is also line pass option available for $20 per person during select hours of operation. See the manager for details.

Info: (702) 731-7928. For large party reservations and private dining, call group dining at Caesar Palace at (702) 731-7778 or toll-free at (866) 733-5827. Log on to www.caesarspalace.com.

When in Vegas experience Jabbawockeez, Michael Jackson ONE, Gallery of Fine Art and an Escape Room

By Alexandra Cohen

LAS VEGAS- There is lost to do in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada (https://www.visitlasvegas.com/ca). We had less than a week on the ground, so here are some suggestions.

JABBAWOCKEEZ: We were thrilled to see Jabbawockeez (https://www.jbwkz.com) for the first time after their energizing 70-minute show. The Jabbawockeez first caught the nation’s eye when they competed on “America’s Got Talent” in 2006, before ultimately winning the grand prize on the first season of the MTV reality show “America’s Best Dance Crew”, produced by Randy Jackson.

Their live show at the recently renovated Jabbawockeez Theater at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (www.mgmgrand.com) on the Vegas Strip is absolutely fantastic!

Their show, JREAMZ, takes audiences on a journey of mesmerizing sights and sounds, entertaining audiences with a dynamic mix of choreography, music, videos, characterization, and special effects. The imaginative production finds a way to seamlessly combine dance, drama, and a surprisingly effective amount of comedy.

Featuring the signature white masks and intricate dance moves that have positioned the group as the world’s most influential dance crew, Jabbawockeez is cutting-edge entertainment at its best. JREAMZ has been voted the “Best Family Show” and “Best All Ages Show” in Las Vegas for three consecutive years.

Donning expressionless white masks and white gloves, Jabbawockeez somehow manage to achieve the perfect balance between blending together as a unified group when necessary and also giving each member a unique character to play. They do not simply use the stage, but navigate through the audience, integrating us into their show and in fact taking selecting several volunteers to take part in their comedic routines. 

Over the years, they have appeared on numerous television shows, including “Dancing With The Stars”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, “Regis & Kelly”, “The TODAY Show”, “E! News”, and “America’s Next Top Model”.

The dance crew was formed in 2003 by Kevin “KB” Brewer, Phil “Swagger Boy” Tayag and Joe “Punkee” Larot. Just a year later, the group had grown to include Jeff “Phi” Nguyen and Rynan “Kid Rainen” Paguio, who still perform in the group. In 2013, the dance troupe also added Tony “Transformer” Tran. Over the life span of Jabbawockeez, there have been as many as eleven artistic creators to funnel energy into their synchronized dance routines. The show is designed to be appropriate for all ages—those four years or older must purchase a ticket; three and under can be admitted as a lap seat.

Jabbawockeez perform Thursday through Monday at both 7PM and 9:30PM. Tickets are priced at $49.99, $72.99 and $82.99 (not including applicable service charges and taxes). A Golden Circle ticket, with the best seats, a complimentary cocktail, and an exclusive Jabbawockeez merchandise item, is available for $110 (not including applicable service charges and taxes). A VIP Package including a post-show meet and greet, photo opportunity with three cast members from the show, and a Jabbawockeez Swag Bag, is available as an add-on to any ticket category for $55. Tickets are available for purchase at any MGM Resorts box office, by phone at (702) 531-3826 or (866) 740-7711 and online at mgmgrand.com or ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit jbwkz.com or connect on Twitter @Jabbawockeez and on Facebook.

The MGM Hotel and Casino is very wheelchair accessible, with lots of elevators and ramps available throughout.

MICHAEL JACKSON ONE:  When in Vegas, experiencing at least one Cirque de Soleil production is a must. As proud Montrealers, we did just that and chose the Cirque’s incredible Michael Jackson ONE  (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-one/show/about.aspx), an awe-inspiring show that fuses acrobatics, dance, story-telling, and visuals, taking the audience on an immersive journey through the music and spirit of Michael Jackson. Shows take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino from Fridays to Tuesdays at both 7 pm and 9:30 pm, while Wednesdays and Thursdays are dark days.  Driven by the late King of Pop’s powerful, multi-layered music – heard like never before in a riveting, state-of-the-art surround-sound environment – ONE takes the audience through a series of seamless visual and musical tableaux.

The talented cast of 63 dancers and performers quickly reel you in, taking over the stage and at times even the audience with their infectious energy and brilliant tricks. You will repeatedly find yourself gasping in disbelief at the magic taking place on stage.

This show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations. You will surely be captivated by the aerial acrobatics and special effects during this unforgettable performance, while trying not to sing along to Jackson’s most popular songs, from “Smooth Criminal” to “Thriller” (a particular highlight).

ONE somehow manages to get better with every routine. Each time you think that there cannot possibly another trick left to perform, someone will fly through the sky or trampoline upside down and once again, you will find yourself amazed.

While the hits in Michael Jackson ONE have been rearranged to suit the show, they remain very close to the album versions and are treated in a highly cinematic fashion. Kevin Antunes, who was also the Musical Designer on Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour, took the multi-track master recordings and manages to make audience members feel the music is surrounding them, a beautiful musical assault coming from all directions. In fact, each of the theatre’s 1,804 seats has three speakers, leaving the room with a total of 5,412 seat speakers!

In Michael Jackson ONE, the video content is also an integral part of the storyline, featuring key aspects of Jackson’s career, including some images from his younger days as a member of Jackson 5. The theatre is equipped with 26 projectors, which display video content on the stage and around the proscenium. Not only that, but there are also 11 TV monitors and a 40 feet-wide, 30 feet-high LED wall.

This show, in its technical and energized glory, truly is not something that you want to miss.

For ticket information call 877.632.7400 or 800-745-3000.  Go to www.cirquedusoleil.com/mjone or www.mandalaybay.com. Visit the Michael Jackson ONE box office, the Mandalay Bay Events Center box office, or any of the MGM Resorts International box offices.

Cirque du Soleil strives to make it as easy as possible to purchase accessible seating tickets for venues across the country. Availability and the type of accessible seating will vary based on each venue’s policies and/or the type of event taking place.

SKYFALL LOUNGE:  After Michael Jackson ONE, you can walk just a few steps over to the Skyfall Lounge (https://www.delanolasvegas.com/en/nightlife/skyfall-lounge.html) at the Delano, which is located within the same Mandalay Bay facility. Why does Skyfall stand out amidst the large number of bars located along the Strip? Skyfall is known for its panoramic overlook of the city, its dramatic interiors, and its creative plates and artisan cocktails. There is no cover, nor are reservations required.  The 180-degree views make it possible for guests to sip a glass of champagne while watching the desert sunset, or to party as DJs spin upbeat music in the vibrant space from 10PM until closing.

Every evening (7:30-8:30PM), those who stay at the hotel are treated to a special champagne toast at Skyfall Lounge. A Delano Las Vegas room key must be presented to receive the complimentary amenity. Hours are Monday to Thursday and Sundays from 5 pm to midnight, and 5 pm to 1 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Info:  877-632-5400

GALLERY OF FINE ART: The beautiful Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art (BGFA  is committed to presenting intimate exhibitions featuring works by some of the world’s most compelling artists.

Since opening in 1998, the gallery has presented exhibitions of artworks and objects drawn from internationally acclaimed museums and private collections. I was excited to learn that through April 28th, 2019, the BGFA is presenting two installations by renowned artist Yayoi Yusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity and Narcissus Garden. An immersive experience for visitors, Yayoi Kusama offers a unique wonderland of lights and reflections where guests become part of the artworks and can experience Kusama’s exploration of infinite space. 

Narcissus Garden has been re-installed and commissioned in various settings since its creation more than 50 years ago. This iteration is comprised of 750 stainless steel silver globes that create an infinite lake that distorts images of reality reflected on the surface of the 12-inch orbs.

I was particularly looking forward to experiencing the second exhibition— Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is a room of infinite, shimmering lights. These mirror rooms have taken over the internet, with people posting artistic photos of them experiencing exhibits of this nature across the world. In this exhibit,  guests step into an enclosed room to become immersed, as an array of lights ignite a mirage mirrored on every surface, representing the eternal cycle of life over the span of 45 seconds. The space represents Kusama’s lifelong obsession with the dissolution of the self into the infinite. Note that this installation may trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy, and this experience should be bypassed by people with sensitivities to flashing lights or dark, enclosed spaces.

ESCAPE ROOM:  Last year in Montreal, I experienced my first-ever escape room. Having really enjoyed the experience, I looked forward to trying one in Las Vegas, so we visited Trapped: A Real Life Room Escape Adventure. This location was launched in 2015 and is centrally located at 4760 Polaris Avenue, a quick drive from the Strip.

For those who have never experienced an escape game of this nature, it involves a group of people being placed in a room where they must use all elements present to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and complete the objective within a set time limit. It is a great bonding activity, as it requires a lot of teamwork in order to succeed. The recommended minimum age to participate is 12 years old. All rooms cost $35 per person for regularly scheduled times.

There are currently two rooms, with a third one on its way, at this location. We chose The Lair of the Puzzle master. What is the scenario? You are your teammates are federal agents tracking an international criminal known as “The Puzzle master”. You have found his hidden lair and are moving in to take him down, but you have to also avoid falling into his many traps. This game is good for anywhere from three to eight participants.

The game is very well constructed—my favorite escape room experience thus far. It thoroughly challenged us, but as three individuals, we were able to escape in the nick of time.

“We as a company have been open since 2015,” said manager Renton Wilson. “We began with one location in Upland, California in 2015 and have since expanded to include a location in San Dimas, California, as well as Las Vegas. We opened in Las Vegas in July of 2018 and our mission is, and always has been, to provide a high quality and fun experience for our customers”

Check out this clever video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvH4xQitunU , log on to

www.trappedescaperoomvegas.com   or call  702-907-8078.

Discount Car and Truck Rentals stand out in Quebec

When  deciding to rent a car while in Vancouver recently we did so patriotically and went with the Canadian-owned Discount Car and Truck Rentals,  grabbing a shuttle picking up our vehicle in nearby Richmond.

Well before planning this trip I did my research and it was my fascination with the services offered by Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec (www.discountquebec.com) that helped make my decision even easier.

Operates Independently

The first thing I learned is how Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec operates independently from the national brand. In a classic example of a franchise system, the operators in Quebec own and operate the franchise for the entire province of Quebec. Discount Car and Truck Rentals in Quebec carries cars of all types, and for every use, from small economical cars for the budget conscious renter, up to spacious and luxurious options for those special occasions.

A leader in the province of Quebec the company started out in 1985 serving the local market and quickly expanded to serving the automobile insurance replacement segment. Whenever a Quebec driver had an accident or had their car stolen, Discount was there to help the transition to a car repair or replacement.  Quickly gaining the trust of insurance brokers and insurance companies, they were able to offer a replacement rental quickly and efficiently to victims of unfortunate circumstances. From there Discount expanded its clientele to include business renters and opened the way for the eventual introduction of a commercial truck division with their acquisition of Monkland Car and Truck rentals on Decarie more than 20 years ago.

Strong Network in Quebec

 Whether it’s for a holiday or a business trip, they boast an extraordinary network of over 160 locations across Quebec, which guarantees its users a wide range of vehicles to meet every need.  Think about it- wherever you live across Quebec, chances are you are within a five to 10 minute drive from one of their stores.

Popular with people who participate in Quebec’s famous “Moving Day” every July 1st, Discount is there to offer trucks and equipment to facilitate the move. The company in fact carries the largest variety of trucks over any of its competitors in the province, by far. In addition, it now leads the way in the rental of electric and Hybrid vehicles.

I met with Steven Lazaroff, current Director or Retail Sales for Discount in Quebec. A member of the management team since 1991 he was   involved in the early stages of growth for the company. He worked in the front line customer service teams,  and went on to  sales representation in different markets like the local insurance replacement market, dealing with insurance adjusters, insurance brokers, automobile dealerships as well as locally owned body shops. After the acquisition of Monkland his career shifted to developing the truck market and local commercial business were attracted to the dedicated sales teams that he led…

Self-Serve Kiosk

New for Discount Quebec is a self-serve kiosk at Plateau Mont Royal. If you have already reserved a vehicle, when you come to pick it up, the self-serve kiosk will speed up the rental process during busy periods, such as weekends. Just follow the instructions on the kiosk screen, and you’ll be good to go in a few quick and easy steps. Once you’re finished, a customer service agent will greet you at the counter to show you the inspection photos and hand over the keys to the vehicle.  

Discount Car and Truck Rentals can help you plan your move when you use their online reservations feature to rent a moving truck. You’ll be able to reserve a van or a cube truck ahead of time so you’ll be ready on the big day. There are a wide variety of trucks to choose from, making it easy to find the right vehicle for your household goods. Even your favourite couch will fit comfortably on board! The trucks are equipped with a gentle-slope loading ramp or a hydraulic tailgate. What’s more, these customer-friendly rental solutions allow you to rent a truck for a one-way trip which can be handy when your kids need to move for University in the fall.

 With the Discount Self-Service option, you can rent a truck by the hour. It’s an economical solution for last-minute jobs. Using nothing but your smartphone, you can reserve a van or rent a 12-foot truck, hop in the driver’s seat, and be on your way without even having to check in at one of the 160 branches!

The trucks in the fleet are practically brand new, and your rental is sure to be comfortable as our vehicles are designed for both city driving and long distances.

Trudeau Airport

At Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Dorval, dial 1-888-335-5683 upon arrival at the terminal in order to signal your presence. Make your way to door 9 on the departure area of the airport for the Discount shuttle will pass by.    The location is minutes away at 405 Avenue Michel Jasmin Info:  (514) 631-1436

Weekend Rental

Planning a weekend escape from the daily routine? Rent a car at a bargain price from Discount Car and Truck Rentals and enjoy the perfect long weekend.  Wherever you roam, leave your car at home so you don’t have to worry about wear and tear on your vehicle. That’s just one of the many benefits of a rental car!

For your family trip, maybe you’ll rent a jeep for a safari at Parc Omega or a minivan for a visit to Ste-Anne Canyon, head to the beaches in Gaspésie or along the U.S. east coast, take in an exhibition at Montreal’s Old Port, marvel at Château Frontenac in Quebec City, picnic in the Quebec countryside, or check out one of the province’s many summer festivals. With Discount you can choose from a selection of utility vehicles and minivans for up to seven passengers.

In the middle of a major renovation project, trying to figure out how to haul all of your materials home from the nearest big box store?  

You can choose between renting a small 12-foot cube truck or a cargo van. For bigger loads and larger items like lumber over 10 feet in length, Discount Car and Truck Rentals will be happy to suggest the right truck for all your needs. Whether you’re renting a car in Montreal, a truck in Quebec City, or even a specialized vehicle (refrigerated, bucket, trailer, dump, or flatbed truck), they have what you need! If construction and renovation are more than just a hobby and are part of your daily work, learn more about our corporate rates:

For young children, Discount can provide child safety seats. 

For more information log on to www.discountquebec.com.

Vancouver is one of Canada’s most beautiful cities to visit

VANCOUVER- I recently returned from my first trip to Vancouver (https://vancouver.ca) in five years. Surrounded by water on three sides and nestled alongside the Coast Mountain Range, Vancouver is home to spectacular natural scenery and a bustling metropolitan core, boasting one of the mildest climates in Canada. The Greater Vancouver region is home to more than two million people in 21 municipalities, making it the third largest metropolitan area in Canada.

For families like mine which love the beach, Vancouver has plenty to offer in that area. Whether you’re looking for a stretch of sand to spread out and relax with a good book, an outdoor court to spike a volleyball, or a catwalk to strut your stuff, Vancouver’s got it. Kitsilano Beach Park, located practically downtown, features one of the largest swimming pools I have ever seen and we spent a fantastic day there. Bar none this is my favorite Canadian city to visit and given the fact we had just over a week there, my “to do” list has a lot of options to explore next time and that will certainly come much sooner than later.

WHERE TO STAY: There are more than 24,000 rooms in Greater Vancouver and more than 13,000 in the downtown core.

For this trip we based ourselves at the Landis Hotel & Suites (https://www.landissuitesvancouver.com) located downtown at 1200 Hornby Street.  This is part of Mayfair Properties, which also owns the neighbouring Courtyard Marriott.

Here you have easy access to the city’s buzzing business district, pedestrian-only shopping entertainment districts, gorgeous green spaces and spots like Stanley Park, the Vancouver Art Gallery, historic Gastown, hip Yaletown and more.

 The hotel offers deluxe, executive and penthouse suites. They are in the midst of renovations, replacing carpeting with hardwood floors and outfitting the rooms with new furniture. Our executive suite featured a master bedroom with a luxurious king bed and a second bedroom with a comfortable Queen bed. Both had cozy duvets and triple sheeting, black-out drapes, closet space with mirrored glass doors and a radio alarm clock. The kitchen offers ample cooking and storage space, and includes a full-size fridge with a freezer, a stove, an oven, a dishwasher, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. You can enjoy your meals or snacks in the dining area located on an enclosed balcony with city views. The glass-top table seats four.  As well, you can sleep extra guests on the pull-out sofa sleeper in the nice-sized living room, which also features a 37 inch flat screen HDTV. Guests can relax after a busy day in the deep soaker tub in the full bathroom, which also features a shower and double sinks with a granite countertop. This is one of few hotels in Vancouver to feature all-suite accommodations and an indoor pool to play around in.

Flooded with natural light, the spacious fitness centre will inspire you to stick to your work-out goals away from home. The hotel gym features several treadmills, Elliptical machines and stationary bikes, a rowing machine and variety of free weights. Enjoy cool, filtered water and a 37 inch HDTV flat screen while you’re working out. General Manager Khalid Ali is very hands on, often working at the front desk to connect directly with guests.

The aquatic centre features a heated indoor pool with a spacious Jacuzzi so you can relax at the end of a busy day in Vancouver. The pool is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There is no lifeguard on duty – all guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

You can also hop on a complimentary shuttle bus for easy transit anywhere in the downtown core. Just make your shuttle arrangements in person at the front desk.

For more information about the hotel call toll-free: 1-877-291-6111, email res@landissuitesvancouver.com  or log on to www.landissuitesvancouver.com.

PRO BASEBALL:   If you are a baseball fan, then the months of June, July and August represent an opportunity for you to see some good old fashioned minor league ball. The Vancouver Canadians (www.canadiansbaseball.com) play out of the prettiest little ballpark in North America – 67 year old Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium. There are 6,413 seats here, every one of them dandy. The Canadians are the short season rookie “A” ball affiliate of the major league Toronto Blue Jays.

There are a number of wheelchair reserved parking spaces at the ballpark and these are located in the parking lot off of Ontario Street along the east end of Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium.

Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium recognizes the needs of guests with disabilities, and provides a wheelchair access viewing platform for fans with accessibility needs and their guests located down the third base line of the ballpark. Wheelchair access is provided through the third base gate located at the Southeast corner of Nat Bailey Stadium.

There are a few Montreal connections associated with this team. Former Expo legend Tim Raines makes regular visits as a minor league instructor for the Blue Jays.  Team president and partner Andy Dunn was the Expos vice-president of Florida operations from 2001 to 2005. He then moved on with the franchise to Washington for two years before joining the Canadians. Prior to joining the Expos, he was a vice-president with the Florida Marlins

Regarding the success of the Canadians in Vancouver, Dunn says affordability is extremely important, especially in a city facing a housing affordability crisis.  You want to keep it fresh. You want to keep people entertained whether you come to one game, five games or 38 games,” Dunn said. “You can afford to come to multiple times over the course of the season … you can bring your wife and your children out to the ballpark and it’s not going to cost you your mortgage.”

Assistant General Manager Allan Bailey has been with the team in a number of roles since 2007. From 2001 to 2006 he studied European and Military History, with a Minor in International Relations cat McGill University. During that time he was also a member of the McGill Baseball team.

Do not assume you can just drive to the stadium the day of a game and buy tickets. Games are often sold out in advance. This was my third time seeing a game there and I can see why. There are probably few better places to be on a nice summer evening, whether you like sports or not, than this stadium. This spot is made for family outings. Along the first base line is a sectioned lined with picnic tables and umbrellas, featuring a nice buffet meal. Corporations purchase blocks of tickets and bring their staff and clients out. Another such section exists behind left field. Just below the third base line is a kid’s zone with bouncy slides and games. My brother-in-law joined me with his four year old son who was at his first professional baseball game. He lasted a few innings, thoroughly enjoying his hot dog, ice cream and the kid’s zone.  “I had fun,” he said.

Log on to www.canadiansbaseball.com for more details.

WHAT TO DO:  The Sea to Sky Gondola (https://www.seatoskygondola.com) is located on Highway 99 just south of Squamish, a scenic 45 minute drive (depending upon traffic) from downtown Vancouver. A 10 minute gondola ride will take you up to a truly magical place with some of the most spectacular views you will ever see and activities for all interests and ages. We really enjoyed the experience, especially the memorable photographs we took where the backdrop was spectacular.

As you rise from the water’s edge on the valley floor, the view opens up before you: the bright blue water of Howe Sound, dotted with green islands and backed by the steep mountains of the Coast Range; the majestic Stawamus Chief; and a bird’s eye view of the town of Squamish with the rugged, snow-capped mountains to the north.

The gondolas were custom-made by Austrian manufacturer, Doppelmayr, and have comfortable padded seats and floor to ceiling glass windows for maximum views. The ride up and down is a thrilling adventure for all ages and provides new views of Shannon Falls and the famous Squamish Chief climbing area.

You will arrive at the Summit Lodge where the experience continues. A popular spot for spectacular photos is the 100 metre Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.

If you would like to explore more, there are many walking and hiking trails for all ages and abilities, whether you want a backcountry adventure or a stroller/wheelchair friendly interpretive walk. These experiences are fully accessible to all. For those looking for a bit more adventure, the Via Ferrata (Italian for the “iron-way”) is a great option.

The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge is approximately 100 metres long and has a backdrop that falls away thousands of feet below, giving you a greater feeling of exposure and height over land. The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge offers amazing 360 degree views of the area, both up to the high alpine of the mountains above and down to the fjord below.

The Summit Lodge Viewing Deck is the first of the three viewing platforms that you encounter. Located footsteps from the gondola’s unloading station, this magnificent 5,000 sq/ft deck offers breathtaking views of Howe Sound, the coastal mountain range, and the famous Co-Pilot and Sky Pilot mountain peaks. The viewing deck is attached to the Summit Lodge, which has a fully licensed restaurant and bar. The Summit Lodge Viewing Deck is the perfect place to enjoy a meal and a refreshing beverage while taking in the views. In the summer months, a number of events are hosted on the deck including live music, yoga, wine pairing dinners and more.

The bridge is open year-round and is one of the many adventures that is available to you with your day ticket or season pass.

After the adventuring, you can enjoy a meal with a view at the Summit Lodge. Take in the vistas on the Summit Lodge deck and watch the sunset.

There are events happening year-round at the Sea to Sky Gondola. There are not many other places where you can listen to live music, taste fine wines, or practice yoga with such a spectacular setting. Make sure you check our website for our Schedule of Events to see what is happening when you are planning to visit.

Accessibility-From Basecamp to Summit, the Sea to Sky Gondola makes it easy for people to connect with the great outdoors. All of the Basecamp and Summit Lodge facilities are wheelchair and stroller accessible. The gondola cabins are designed to accommodate both wheelchairs and strollers and are capable of slowing or stopping for ease of access. The patio and viewing deck at the Summit are wheelchair accessible (snow conditions permitting) and can be accessed on the left hand side of the building.

For visitors with babies and young children the Panorama Trail and Spirit Trail are stroller accessible. The following amenities are available to make the Sea to Sky Gondola as accessible as possible:  wheelchair accessible parking spaces directly adjacent to the Basecamp facilities; Accessibility window for ticket purchases at Basecamp; wheelchair accessible gender neutral washrooms available at the base and in the Summit Lodge (ask retail at Summit for directions); wheelchair accessible tables are available at the Basecamp Cafe and in the Summit Lodge; and  Baby changing tables at the base and at the summit.

Adult day tickets are $41.95 when purchased online and $43.95 at the ticket window. Check out ticket pricing and buy tickets online at https://www.seatoskygondola.com, Coming from Vancouver? The Squamish Connector (24 seats) offers roundtrip shuttle service from three downtown Vancouver locations to the Sea to Sky Gondola. Guests can enjoy three hours at the Sea to Sky Gondola before returning to downtown Vancouver by 4 p.m. Learn more: https://www.seatoskygondola.com/visit/shuttle.

PLAYLAND: If you like amusement parks, Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition (www.pne.ca) on East Hastings Street is the place to go.  The 15 acre Playland Amusement Park is a popular attraction. Open from late April through the end of September it has hosted millions of thrill seekers of all ages since it opened in 1910.  The Park was named “Happy Land” in 1926 and remained on the original site until 1958, when it was moved to its present spot and re-opened under the name Playland. Previously owned by a number of parent companies, Playland became a division of the PNE family in July, 1993.

Playland’s marquee attraction, the beloved 1958 Wooden Roller Coaster, remains the most popular ride on the site and one of the most highly regarded wooden coasters in the world. Designed by the legendary ride construction team, Carl Phare and Walker LeRoy, the Playland Wooden Coaster rides over half a million people annually. The flume, though, ranks as a favorite as well. Unfortunately on the day we visited, it was not operational.

 Other popular rides include wave swinger, west coast wheel, breakdance, the scrambler, the corkscrew, rock climbing, the hellevator, bumper cars, the pirate ship and music express. Tamer rides include the merry-go-round, cool cruzers, the super slide, raiders, helicopters, tea cups and honeybee express. There are the traditional carnival games, an arcade and plenty of food options.  This place is a lot fun and I would highly recommend you spend the day there. It was a memorable experience for my sister-in-law as this was her four year old’s very first visit to an amusement park. He felt so adult behind the wheel of his own car (cool cruzers), driving a motorcycle (choppers) and climbing aboard the kids’ rollercoaster (Kettle Creek Mine Coaster). I thought he was quite daring to go on the wave swinger.

DINING OUT: There are some superb restaurants in Vancouver. Here are some in particular I strongly recommend.

Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House

First let me tell you about Joe Fortes Seafood & and Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) on downtown Thurlow Street. It has become our “go to” place while in Vancouver. On this night we were a party of five adults and a four year old.

The hostess seated on the gorgeous roof garden.  Our server Jennifer, who also works as a manager on some nights, gave us a thorough look at the menu and the day’s many specials.

One of Joe Fortes many unique qualities is the immediate sense of character and personality that guests recognize the moment they step inside. The large, bright room feels instantly powerful yet inviting, and it’s no coincidence that these qualities were also embodied by the legendary figure that the restaurant takes its name from:  Seraphim “Joe Forte.  In 1885, this burly seaman landed upon Vancouver’s shores and settled into a cabin in English Bay. There, Joe quickly became one of Vancouver’s most popular citizens, serving Vancouverites in a variety of ways first as a bartender and later as Vancouver’s first official lifeguard. Today, he is remembered by a monument near the site of his home, and his popularity lives on inside the welcoming walls of Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House.

With a commitment to freshness, the Joe Forte’s kitchen receives daily local deliveries, ensuring that you’re guaranteed to find the freshest ingredients on your plate every day.

The restaurant is owned by noted Jewish restaurateur David Aisenstat. Born and bred into the restaurant industry, he first learned his chops from his father Hy Aisenstat, founder of the famous Hy’s Steakhouse chain. His ability to recognize and retain talented people, and his passion for art and design, combine for what have been consecutively successful ventures in the industry. He has since continued on to become a legendary restaurateur in his own right, as the owner of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, Hy’s Steakhouse Cocktail Bar, Gotham Steakhouse, The Shore Club, Ki, and of course Joe Fortes.

The main dining room is anchored by a soaring horseshoe oyster bar. This Grand Room boasts large, cozy booths, perfect for hosting a high-powered lunch or dinner meetings, as well as intimate dinner dates.   From the mezzanine, diners enjoy a bird’s eye view of the action and live musical entertainment below.

The mahogany-walled wine room offers guests a unique and discreet setting in which to enjoy an intimate lunch, or a private corporate celebration.   The more casual side of Joe’s is experienced in the bistro and bar area where locals and out-of-towners alike mingle, soak up the live music and keep their eyes open for visiting celebrities.

For a breath of fresh air, guests like us request to step up to Vancouver’s most desirable roof garden and into an urban oasis featuring a living green wall, cozy outdoor fireplace and bustling horseshoe bar.

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House has been specializing in classic, American cuisine since 1985. It is a tribute to Executive Chef Wayne Sych and his dedicated kitchen staff of 70 people that Joe’s has maintained its unparalleled popularity with both locals and tourists alike for more than 20 years – an astonishing feat in the restaurant business. But even a cursory glance at the menus reveals why Joe’s stays at the top of our customers’ minds and, quite literally, at the tip of their tongues.

The Joe Fortes kitchen prepares each dish with a focus on natural flavours and features the finest ingredients collected from Pacific Northwest farmers, fishermen and food artisans. Serving more than 50 kinds of fresh fish, including their legendary Seafood Tower on Ice, premium oysters and succulent chops, their signature dishes have become a favourite of locals, celebrities and tourists alike.

From our previous two visits, the Seafood Tower on Ice was on our “must eat” list and it did not disappoint us. The five adults in our party shared two towers, almost a meal on its own, featuring chilled Atlantic lobster, local oysters, marinated clams and mussels, scallop ceviche, albacore tuna crudo and chilled jumbo prawns. We also added a crispy crab cake and some scallops.

Since we have been to Joe Forte’s before, we had some valuable experience as to how to navigate the impressive menu. Three members of the group decided to have the best of both worlds – splitting the petit mignon and the most delicious cuts like butter piece of fish we’ve ever experienced – miso marinated sable fish with sides of sesame quinoa, mushrooms, edamame, kale and sweet soy and  café de Paris butter gratin, potato pavé, and market vegetables. I opted for the Sirloin Steak (7 oz.), with buttermilk mashed potatoes and jasmin rice. Given the large serving I already enjoyed from the Tower, this was the perfect size of meat. The other member of our group chose the Scallop dinner from the special menu of the day.  As for our little four year old nephew, he feasted on some macaroni and cheese.  There were drinks as well for some of us, bellinis, a vodka martini and a glass of wine.

While pretty much full, the dessert menu was too appetizing to ignore so we agreed to share a piece of chocolate sin cake with ganache, brandy and chocolate brittle and half orders of  traditional tiramisu with mascarpone cream, lady fingers, espresso, kahlua and baileys and  the Tahitian vanilla Crème Brûlée, with house-made biscotti and whipped cream. Needless to say we all left with smiles on our faces.

For individuals with mobility issues Joe Forte’s has ground level seating as well as a single stall restroom on the main floor. There is also valet parking for a fee.

Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House is located at 777 Thurlow Street. For reservations call 604.669.1940. It is open seven days a week from 11 am to 11 pm.

The Sandbar

I also recommend you check out the four extraordinary restaurants that makeup the Sequoia Company of restaurants at   Vancouverdine.com.   We opted in favor of the Sandbar (https://www.vancouverdine.com/sandbar) on Granville Island at 1535 Johnston Street. Scott Garrett is the general manager. For seven years he ran the Walt Disney Resorts in Florida’s food and beverage programs as the restaurant guest services manager, receiving AAA’s coveted Four Diamond Award for service excellence during his tenure.   More recently he headed operations at Joe Fortes. We were delighted to meet one of the managers, Nouria Gagne. She and our server Grant did a fabulous job making sure we made the best of our evening, starting with a picturesque terrace table on the top floor overlooking the water.

There is live music here seven nights a week and quite a marvelous ambiance. The 300 seat restaurant was packed the night we chose to dine there. Guests can enjoy the bustle of the market, the non-stop energy of False Creek and the shores of Vancouver’s West End. Walk up the wood post staircase, the only item that was salvaged from the historic Mulvaney’s Restaurant site, and elevate your view of the city waterfront. The busy animated open kitchen gives the guest that “Granville Island Market feeling” plus an up-close look at the chefs as they prepare their seafood creations.

The Sandbar serves up the freshest seafood in a warm, sophisticated atmosphere. Suspended above the bar in the Teredo Lounge is Kivi, a 24-foot salmon troller hand built by Allan Farrell, one of the West Coast’s finest craftsman of wooden boats. Fresh oyster bar, tapas, dinner and dancing, this is considered to be Vancouver’s most popular spot to see and be seen.

We were a group of five adults and one four year old, who was thrilled with the kid’s menu/coloring page. He happily enjoyed his pizza while using his crayons to the max, creating some masterpieces of his own. The adults, meantime, started off with some French martinis, a margarita and a glass of white wine before sharing a magnificent Sandbar Tower – eight jumbo prawns, 12 oysters, ahi tuna poke, salmon sashimi, king crab and lobster. I ordered a delicious cup of clam chowder while the table also shared a trio of superb sushi rolls: California (Dungeness crab, avocado, cucumber, tobiko and mayonnaise) and Tuna Goma-ae (albacore tuna, Chef Hoshi’s special sesame sauce and green onion) and special scallop (diced scallop, tobiko, mayonnaise).

For the main course, a few of us gravitated towards the clipboard. I wanted something authentically B.C. and found it in the Wild Sockeye Salmon with mango papaya salsa, citrus butter and sauce. On the side I had some rice and roasted potatoes. It was a good choice. Two others chose the Sable fish (black cod) with a miso ginger glaze while another opted for the Ahi tuna, seared rare with soy mustard, wasabi, cucumber and salsa. The crab & shrimp Louie was the final item selected by a member of our party – fresh Dungeness crab, hand-peeled shrimp, egg, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers and creamy Old Bay dressing. Their steaks are said to be very good as well, something we will have to consider on our next visit. For dessert we managed to share two decadent choices: the lemon torte and some to die for chocolate cake, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Our little nephew, his pizza completely digested, was more than happy to take part in this final tasting of the evening.

The restaurant is fully handicapped accessible, including an elevator to bring patrons in wheelchairs up to the second and third floors. Recent renovations took place in the main dining room. The bar used to be where the block of booths are on the east side of the restaurant. They moved the bar to the far back west wall in order to provide more dining space with window views. The sushi bar was also moved from the first level entrance up into the lounge area adjacent the bar while the piano was relocated to this new lounge area.

Open seven days a week until 11 pm, you can find all of the information you need on their website or by calling 604.669.9030.

Bridges

Bridges (www.bridgesrestaurant.com) was always one of my favorite spots when I used to frequent Vancouver for business a number of years ago. This restaurant has been a landmark on Vancouver’s waterfront for over 27 years.

Located next to the public market on historic Granville Island, Bridges serves the freshest seafood Vancouver has to offer. Set near the Arts Club Theatre and Maritime Market, Bridges offers magnificent views of Vancouver’s waterfront, mountains and city center. Bridges Dining Room, Bar, Bistro and outdoor dining are the quintessential summer experience in Vancouver. Served by public moorage, Aquabus and False Creek Ferries, Bridges is easily reached by the water and has hundreds of free parking stalls for automobile access. It is open daily, from 11 a.m.

One of my oldest friends, Clifford Margolese, moved to Vancouver 35 years ago. When I asked if we could meet for lunch, he immediately suggested Bridges. It was my first time back in 10 years and the place has not lost any of its charms. On this beautiful day we say out on the patio, looking out at the waterfront.

Bridges opened in 1980 on the western tip of Granville Island, a redevelopment project orchestrated by the federal government’s Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Bridges operates a second floor dining room with 150 seats inside and a 40 seat terrace.  On the main floor is a 120 seat bistro and a 100 seat bar with its own terrace.  During the summer months they operate Vancouver’s largest patio, with a license for 300 seats on the waterfront. What do we recommend? Well for one thing you will probably need to go back more than once.

Clifford and I shared some deliciously fresh oysters with pickled ginger mignonette and calamari, with house made tzatziki, with crispy fried onions and jalapenos. For my main meal I remembered how good the grilled chicken club burger was, featuring free-range chicken breast and crispy bacon served with fries. You can switch the latter for another side if you wish.

Clifford, always the healthy eater, chose the mixed green salad, featuring market fresh vegetables, organic greens, and honey lemon vinaigrette. He added a salmon filet as well.

I was able to coax my friend into sharing some desserts – the decadent chocolate cake and the equally fantastic lemon layer cake. It was worth the cheat for both of us and a great suggestion from our server Charlie.

Bridges is located at 1696 Duranleau Street. For more email info@bridgesrestaurant.com or call 604-687-4400.

The patio and first floor are fully handicapped accessible.

Gotham

We got to experience Gotham Steakhouse and Bar (https://gothamsteakhouse.com) at 615 Seymour Street for the first time.   The menu is simple and classic steakhouse, with only the finest ingredients making the cut. Hand-crafted cocktails and extensive wine list make decisions just a little harder, but satisfaction guaranteed.

The restaurant is sophisticated and elegant, but the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed. You never know who may turn up on any given day. Gotham counts well-known performers, actors, sports icons and local legends all among its regular guests. It features soaring ceilings, sumptuous leather and velvet upholstery and, private dining rooms.

Dinner at Gotham is an occasion to remember. The à la carte menu features classic steakhouse favourites, perfectly prepared and presented in an atmosphere of luxurious comfort. The beef is Prime Grade Alberta, 28-day aged, and simply seasoned to bring out maximum flavour. The fish and seafood is delicate and fresh, and the delicious and decadent side dishes are perfect accompaniments to complete a memorable dinner

There are two levels, with an elevator providing handicapped access to the second floor and to the basement where you will find the washrooms and some private rooms used for groups and special occasions. A seasonal urban garden patio is popular as well. All of the servers wear white tops. Our waiter Ryan has been with Gotham for 14 years.

Our party of six included one four year old who loved his choice from the kids menu –a grilled cheese sandwich and mashed potatoes. After starting out with some drinks, we went directly to our main courses: a 32 ounce bone-in rib steak, served sliced, and nicely shared by two people; a perfectly prepared filet; the Blackened Ahi Tuna; and  the fish of the day, which happened to be halibut with risotto and vegetables included. We all shared some sides of mashed potatoes,  creamed spinach and fresh steamed broccoli. We will hopefully try items like the Seafood Tower, the jumbo lobster tail and the fresh oysters on our next visit. To cap the night off, we also shared the decadent Belgian Chocolate Bourbon Cake. It was an absolutely superb meal in a great ambiance. Gift cards are available in different denominations and a very nice option if you would like to surprise a family member or business associate with something they would truly appreciate.

 The house DJ is on duty for social hour, from 3 pm to 6:45 pm, Wednesday to Friday. And when the summer sun shines, he takes his mix of contemporary sounds to the patio for chilling al fresco. Tuesday through Saturdays they feature some of Vancouver’s most talented musicians in the sensuous lounge from 7 pm to 11pm.  This is perfect for cocktails before dinner or a luxurious after dinner drink.

Executive Chef Jean Claude is from France. He honed his skills over winters in the Alps and summers in St. Tropez. Arriving in Montreal in 1992, he spent six years at Le Soubise, then moved to Vancouver, furthering his experience at several well-known local restaurants, including as Chef-Owner of Cyrano. Since 2005, with grace, skill and good humour, he has led the Gotham kitchen.

GETTING AROUND: Vancouver’s road system and traffic are easier to handle than those of many other cities, but there are no freeways within the city, so traffic tends to move more slowly than cities with high-speed road systems. Unless you plan to travel outside of the downtown core, where most people get around by public transit, on foot or by taxi, you will not need a car. For travel outside the downtown area, options include public transit, car rentals, tour buses, taxis, or even limousines if you want to go in style!

Public transit can get you to many points of interest across the region relatively quickly and inexpensively by conventional buses, mini-bus “Community Shuttles,” rapid “B-Line” services, a rail system called “SkyTrain” and even passenger ferries that offer a scenic trip across the inner harbour from downtown Vancouver to the North Shore. A commuter rail service, the West Coast Express, connects downtown Vancouver and Mission in the Fraser Valley each weekday morning and afternoon.

All of these transit services, plus the region’s major roads, are part of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, known as TransLink. TransLink’s fare system allows transit passengers to purchase a ticket for the number of zones they wish to cross and then easily transfer from one transit mode to another within those zones for up to 90 minutes on the same ticket. Books of transit tickets, called FareSavers, are available at retail outlets at a discount and can be validated for use at any time. Day passes provide unlimited travel for one day.

Whistler, B.C. remains a superb year-round place to visit

WHISTLER, BC- My family and I recently made our second visit to Whistler, BC (www.tourismwhistler.com), less than a two hour drive from Vancouver and one of the host cities for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Located in the Coast Mountain Range of British Columbia, Whistler consistently offers the most reliable snow conditions, receiving an average annual snowfall of 11.9 metres (39.1 feet) based on the past 10 years. Due to Whistler’s coastal proximity, temperatures are moderate through the winter season, rarely dipping below -10°C (12°F) in the valley and -15°C (5°F) in the alpine during the coldest part of the year. Expect -5°C (22°F) average daily alpine temperatures during most of the winter months. Summer in Whistler brings temperatures ranging from highs of 21°C / 70°F to 27°C / 80°F with August being the warmest month.

There are many things to do in the Village, the heart of Whistler. You can stay in a centrally located hotel, walk the Village Stroll, indulge yourself at one of many places to eat and browse the unique shops.  The Village is located at the base of the lifts, making access to Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains convenient for skiing, snowboarding and sightseeing.  Whistler Village is big enough to have all the amenities expected of a world-class resort, yet small enough for you to feel its unique mountain culture and distinctive hospitality

The year-round population of Whistler Resort is almost 10,000 permanent residents. As the host Mountain resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler improved accessibility throughout the Village, parks and accommodation.

Ski season in Whistler typically begins around the third weekend in November, coinciding with American Thanksgiving. From there, both mountains are open daily for winter operations until late April. Blackcomb Mountain stays open for spring skiing and snowboarding until mid-May. Summer glacier skiing and riding on Blackcomb Mountain starts the third week of June. In summer Whistler Mountain Bike Park opens as a haven for riders of all levels and the Village Gondola, Peak 2 Peak Gondola and Peak Chair are open for sightseeing.  

Many people don’t realize Whistler has a huge range of free services and activities. Year-round you will find some amazing freebies in and around the Village, such as the free shuttle bus throughout the Village, free internet access and Storytime at the Library, free weekly local papers with all your entertainment listing, and numerous free art displays.

Eight years have passed since Whistler hosted the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, but the spirit is alive.  In the winter you can strap on the skinny skis in the Callaghan Valley at the Whistler Olympic Park, home to all Nordic events in 2010. Whistler Olympic Park also offers biathlon, snowshoeing, tobogganing for those after a unique adventure in an incredible setting. Slide down Whistler Mountain’s Dave Murray Downhill and emulate the athletes who competed there eight years ago in the downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-combined and super G races. Speed things up at the Whistler Sliding Centre home to bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions during the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games. Set out on the world’s fastest ice track and try the exhilarating sport of bobsled or skeleton. Visit the Whistler Museum to learn Whistler’s story of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at the Hosting the World exhibit. Check out the gear of 13 of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the Sea-to-Sky corridor, grasp the glory of the torch, try on a ski bib or sport the volunteer “smurf” uniform.

PEAK 2  PEAK: There is no better experience than the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. You first take the Whistler Express Gondola from the Village, which takes 25 minutes. You’ll arrive at the Roundhouse, a lodge where you can have lunch or a snack, and take in the spectacular view of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. We took advantage of that opportunity. The view as I enjoyed my Miso soup was nothing short than spectacular.

Our next move would have been to hop on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for a thrilling 11-minute ride over to Blackcomb Mountain.  Unfortunately for us, there was some maintenance work the day we visited and the Peak to Peak was closed.  

Besides the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which still holds the Guinness World Record for longest and highest lift, The Peak Cloudraker Suspension Skybridge is the latest attraction and it was part of our 360 package. It is 130 metres long and goes from Whistler Peak to the West Ridge, which crosses the Whistler Bowl. Upon completion it will have a viewing platform on the West Ridge side. This literally saved the day for us.  From the Roundhouse Lodge we walked the Peak Express Traverse to the Peak Express Chair for a thrilling open air ride to the suspension bridge at the Top of the World Summit. Even on a warm summer day be sure to bring a sweatshirt or a light jacket as it can get cool up there. The view from up here is exceptional and you will want to take a lot of photos.  I look forward to coming back when the lookout is completed. Yes the bridge does sway a bit, but we all felt very secure. We even saw someone navigating it in a wheelchair.

It takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes to hike the Peak Express Traverse from the Roundhouse down to the base of the Peak Chair. Blogger Megan Wilson lists two options for your return, and they both require some hiking. You can either take one of the alpine hiking trails for additional views, or download via the Peak Chair. If you choose to download the Peak Chair, it is important to note you will still have to walk back up the Peak Express Traverse from the base of the Peak Chair to the Roundhouse to get home.

At 0.6 km it is not a great distance, but it is uphill all the way with an elevation gain of 63 m. Depending on the fitness levels and age of people in your group, this may be challenging after a day of adventuring. Make sure to take water and snacks, leave plenty of time and energy to walk back, and take lots of breaks on your way out.

We also saw many people biking their way down the mountain.

The Peak 2 Peak is wheelchair accessible in the summer while a sled is used in the winter to transport those in need to the Blackcomb Lodge.

WHERE TO STAY:  Following a wonderful stay at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco in the summer of 2017, we were so pleased to spend some time at The Hilton Whistler (www.hiltonwhistler.com). Our family thoroughly enjoyed a day at the outdoor pool area, which has plenty of very comfortable lounge chairs and umbrella coverage. The water was the perfect temperature and the pool itself a nice size. There are two Jacuzzis, one outside the other in the fitness center. You can also soothe your sore muscles in the sauna. The pool area is completely handicapped accessible, with a level walkway from the elevators and lobby to the deck.

We were provided with a menu of items we could conveniently order right from our chairs. Three of us opted for the club house, featuring seven grain bread, perfectly grilled chicken, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, smoked cheddar, guacamole and mayonnaise with side salads and an order of crispy chicken tenders and yam fries. They also have a nice selection of drinks. We asked our server to recommend something sweet and she brought us some cool glasses of spiked strawberry lemonade. If you are at this Hilton on a Sunday, do be sure to take advantage of the popular Bubbles, Beats and Brunch.

The hotel is ideally located in the heart of Whistler Village, host mountain resort of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games. Named the Luxury Resort & Spa of the Year for British Columbia in 2016 and2017 by Luxury Travel Guide, the hotel is steps away from the chairlifts of the legendary Whistler & Blackcomb Mountains, and offers an array of world-class restaurants, stylish boutiques and buzzing nightlife at its doorstep.

Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa’s spacious and newly renovated guest rooms are designed with mountain style elegance and incorporate many natural elements into its design, including indigenous art from the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Many of the rooms offer jetted soaker tubs and fully equipped kitchens with full-size fridges, microwaves, and stove tops.

There are 24-hour fitness and business centres here. The Hilton Fitness Centre by Precor features the finest cardiovascular equipment with personal viewing screens, elliptical cross-trainers, a stationary bike, free-weight station, and stretching area.  

 Rejuvenate your senses at Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, and soothe away tension whilst treating mind, body and soul to essential nourishment. Tempt your palette with savoury Pacific Northwest Cuisine at Cinnamon Bear Grille, the hotel’s signature restaurant. For a livelier atmosphere, enjoy a cool cocktail at the hottest après ski bar in Whistler, Cinnamon Bear Bar.

All of the spacious and richly appointed guestrooms feature the Hilton Serenity® bed with elegantly striped 250 thread count sheets and luxurious down comforters and pillows; all layered on top of a mattress set custom designed for added support and comfort.

Additional amenities for a comfortable Whistler getaway include lavish Peter Thomas Roth bath and body products, specialty Brew Selector by Cuisinart coffee maker, alarm clock radio, and 37” flat screen television. Wireless internet and local calls are included in each guestroom. Kitchens include a microwave, cook-top (no oven), refrigerator, dishwasher, and are fully equipped with cutlery, crockery, cookware, as well as a toaster and a kettle.

Sales and Marketing Director Allison Brown was kind enough to give me a tour of the property, noting that when it debuted in 1982 it was the first large hotel to open in Whistler. As she walked me through the beautiful 287 room facility, its age did not show. One good reason for that is the recent renovation of all rooms and hallways. Next on the agenda will be a revamp of the large reception area. The rooms I saw were lovely. The chalet style Premier Studio, for instance, boasts 600 plus square feet and is ideal for families or those desiring more room. This self-contained studio features a well equipped kitchen, breakfast bar, wood burning fireplace, sitting area and balcony. The oversized bathroom includes a deep soaker tub, some equipped with air jets. Many of these studios can be connected to a Hilton Room with two double beds for additional space and comfort.  The spacious and luxuriously appointed two bedroom Alpine Suite features a wood burning fireplace, well equipped kitchen, in-suite laundry, balcony, and even a steam room or sauna to relax those tired muscles after a day of adventure. The stylish living room has a double sized sofa bed, and three 37 inch flat screen televisions, featuring HD programming complete the suite. The master bedroom includes a king sized bed while the second bedroom contains a queen. Alpine Two Bedroom Suites can connect to a Signature Spa Room to create a three bedroom suite.

The Hilton Whistler is a popular spot for weddings and honeymoons.  With special touches like chilled sparkling wine upon arrival, a fireplace in your room, a soothing massage, sumptuous breakfast in bed, guest parking and late check-out, this is bound to be a trip to remember.   Weddings in Whistler are said to be stunningly beautiful, no matter what the season. Whether you’re exchanging vows among the alpine wildflowers or “skiing” down the aisle, ceremonies can be held inside or in the outdoor courtyard (depending on the weather).  Just email sales@hiltonwhistler.com for more.

Call Reservations at 1-800-515-4050 to inquire about the Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa Romance Package.

VALLEA LUMINA: Moment Factory (www.momentfactory.com) was established in Montreal in 2001 as a multimedia entertainment studio specializing in the conception and production of immersive environments, combining video, lighting, architecture, sound and special effects to create remarkable visitor experiences.

Going from 15 to 250 employees and opening new offices around the world, Moment Factory has been pushing the boundaries of excellence in multimedia and emerging art forms to create some of the most imaginative public experiences the world has ever seen.

 Vallea Lumina in Whistler, BC, represents the latest in their signature series of immersive multimedia night walks. The project was developed in collaboration with The Adventure Group in Whistler to add a unique evening experience to their diverse line-up of outdoor entertainment activities.

Vallea Lumina takes visitors on a mythic journey through the forests on Cougar and Rainbow mountains, where video projections, lighting, sound, and special effects add a layer of mystery and enchantment to the mountain’s natural beauty. Along an accessible 1.4 km pathway, visitors follow clues left by two hikers toward a secret valley filled with wonders.

This was a remarkable experience for our family as we literally got to explore new frontiers of storytelling. Visitors are transported through time to a forest rangers’ basecamp steeped in nostalgia, where they set out on a mission to find a legendary hidden valley. Hints tucked into song lyrics and posters, cryptic radio signals and ephemeral messages in stardust and campfire sparks lead them toward an unforgettable supernatural spectacle.

We very much enjoyed the experience and watched some of the projections, which play on a loop, several times. They were so realistic.  

It is recommended you bring with you closed-toe shoes, comfortable clothing and insect repellant. The experience will run daily until October 2018. It begins at sundown and takes place every 20 minutes (exact times vary depending on time of year). The illuminated trail takes approximately 60 minutes to complete, and a complimentary shuttle service is provided from Whistler Village at the Gondola Transit Exchange, and outside Blackcomb Day Lodge in the Upper Village. Show-goers cannot drive to Vallea Lumina, you must take the shuttle from a designated pick-up spot. Tickets cost $29 for adults (16 plus), $24 for youth (six to 15 years) and children five years and under receive free admission. For more information or to book, visit tagwhistler.com/lumina.

Moment Factory already launched its first two night walks in Asia, Rainforest Lumina in Singapore and Island Lumina in Japan earlier this year.  “After our success debuting the Lumina experience abroad, it felt great to cross back over the Pacific to bring the series to Canada’s West Coast for the first time,” a Moment Factory statement says.

Moment Factory now has eight international night walks. Each one uses a seamless blend of creative lighting, sound design, interactive elements, and projection mapping to shape a narrative environment that’s tailor-made to enhance the natural beauty of its site.

This new storytelling format was pioneered in 2014 with the creation of Foresta Lumina in Coaticook, Quebec  

Closer to home  Moment Factory and Tremblant—have been pairing their savoir-faire for the past two years  by creating an immersive, interactive and illuminated night walk that begins with a ride on the Flying Mile lift. From its midway station, the adventure darts into the wilderness, and concludes back in the pedestrian village. It is called Tonga Lumina (www.tongolumina.com) and it runs through Thanksgiving Day Weekend.

THE ULTIMATE ESCAPE ROOM: Escape Whistler (http://escapewhistler.com) was a lot of fun. There are four escape rooms to try: Pirate ship, Pinball Machine, Buried Cabin or Rabbit Hole. Each room is very different in terms of game, difficulty and style! If you are an escape room veteran, you could be confident to try any of the rooms straight off the bat.

The Pinball Machine was our choice. Here is the concept. One night, you and your friends decide to sneak into the old, run down 1980‘s video game arcade across town. While poking around and exploring the arcade, you notice a vintage video Pinball Machine in the back corner and happen to stumble across a notebook with various cheat codes for old video games. Suddenly, something happens, and you and your friends become transported inside the Pinball Machine. Now you must play the game to Escape the machine and make it home within 45 minutes. This was no easy task. We liked the fact one group or family can book a room for themselves. You are asked to come 15 minutes early to sign your waivers. Upon entering the room you will be given a timer and a walkie talkie. The latter can be used to call the central desk for some clues. We came close, but did not manage to escape in time.

The games are suitable for all ages and this is fantastic team building or family outing activity for everyone to enjoy.

There are two wheelchair accessible rooms to choose from – The Buried Cabin and The Pinball Machine.

The cost is $30 plus GST per player. Children four and under are free. There are two to six players allowed per room. Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian (19 years or older).

They are open seven days a week. Info: 604-962-1117. 

DINING:  There are wonderful culinary spots to choose from in Whistler.

Brewhouse

We were very excited to return to the Brewhouse Restaurant (http://www.markjamesgroup.com/brewhouse.html). This is one of the busiest spots in the Whistler Village all year round. With a separate restaurant, bar and mezzanine, the Whistler Brewhouse is capable of accommodating groups large and small. The pub has a cozy two-sided fireplace and lots of TVs, making it the perfect place to watch the game when you’re tired from playing all day. The restaurant is warm and family friendly with a great kids’ menu and a huge patio for Whistler’s long, hot summers. The cuisine is an inspired and appetizing mix of barbeque and rotisserie classics, with exceptional pizza and pasta options. These flavours are complemented by their range of handcrafted ales and lagers, brewed onsite. There are even four kinds of poutine.

I started off with a huge bowl of Matzo Ball Soup – rich chicken broth, matzo ball, spit roasted chicken, celery, carrots and onions. Our party of  five adults shared some starters, the fish taco, Szechuan chicken lettuce wraps and the tempura tuna maki roll and decided upon a few different main courses: the wild mushroom and Johnny Mac (spicy capicola and mushrooms) brick oven pizzas and the three beef sliders (pulled beef, pretzel bun and horseradish cream). The food and atmosphere was great. We particularly liked the cute model train which made its way through the restaurant on miniature tracks above us.

This is part of the Mark James Group Brewery Restaurant, with others in Vancouver (Yaletown and The Distillery Bar + Kitchen), Richmond (Flying Beaver) and Surrey (Big Ridge). James is a member of the Jewish community and has been supportive of a number of charitable events. This includes the annual Sports Celebrity Dinner.  

Mongolie Grill

One of our favorite and more unique spots we recalled from our last visit to Whistler was the Mongolie Grill (www.mongoliegrill.com).  This is the ultimate “fun” dining experience with fresh and tasty ingredients grilled to perfection in front of your eyes! Independently owned and operated since 1996, the Mongolie Grill has developed into a world famous dining experience. Management prides itself on serving only the freshest selection of vegetables, meats, seafood and sauces to ensure the tastiest of experiences. Mongolie Grill allows you to get creative and cater to your own taste-buds by choosing your own stir-fry combination! Select your favourite ingredients and flavour with your chosen sauce combinations. We recommend you take a small bowl. It will be more than sufficient. Your meal will be weighed by the chefs then theatrically grilled to perfection. You will also get some complimentary Jasmin or Brown Rice that will be waiting at your table when you return from the grill! We also ordered a litre of the Mongolini Blended –strawberry, peach and vodka, topped with sangria. They offer a walk-in service only for all guests and groups. Reserved seating is not available. This restaurant has about 150 seats. Inquire about their Mongolie bucks, a nice gift for someone who might be headed to the area. For customers in wheelchairs or with mobility issues, there is an elevator. Info: 604-938-9416

Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar

 The last time I dined at Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar (www.hyssteakhouse.com) was a number of years ago at the iconic Parliament Hill location in Ottawa, which has since closed. The present-day spots are in Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Whistler.

When Hy Aisenstat opened the first Hy’s Steakhouse in Calgary in 1955, his boundless energy and ambition meant that he would always have his eyes on growing to new cities and locations.

We were fortunate to get a reservation at Hy’s in Whistler, where Michael Kyle serves as general manager. This is a beautiful restaurant located just near the entrance to the village. Dimly lit, the dining room can seat about 175 people. There is also a seasonal terrace.

Dining at Hy’s is above all an authentic experience. Every ingredient is chosen to highlight the top quality of perfectly grilled steaks and the freshest fish and seafood. A wide range of classic and modern appetizers and accompaniments make choosing difficult, but satisfaction guaranteed.

Hy’s menu has evolved over the years, but its timeless steakhouse essence remains. These are the finest beef and seafood entrées, the most beloved appetizers and decadent sides, all prepared with classic technique and modern interpretation.

From specially selected Prime Grade beef, aged a minimum of 28 days and grilled to order, your steak is accompanied by a choice of baked potato, hand-cut French fries or mashed potatoes.

Hy’s serves Prime Grade steaks, the top one percent of beef in the market. From Filet Mignon to New York, and bone–in rib to Porterhouse, each steak served at Hy’s becomes the perfectly prepared centerpiece for the unforgettable Hy’s experience.

With a hungry four year old in our party, we ordered some delicious bread cheese toast to fill his empty tummy. The adults liked it as well. For appetizers we shared the Ahi Tuna and a nice Caesar salad while our little man requested and received a bowl of kids macaroni and cheese. Three of the adults toasted the evening with some French martinis while another had a glass of red wine with his meal.

For the main courses, two of us selected the eight ounce filet mignon, it was perfectly grilled and cut like butter.  The 20 ounce bone in rib was more than enough for two others to share while the remaining order consisted of prawns and scallops. While we were all quite full, the six of us happily split a piece of chocolate bourbon cake.

Share the gift of exceptional taste. Hy’s gift cards are available in any denomination from $25 and may be redeemed at any of our five locations across Canada. Gift cards may be ordered online or in person.

For reservations call 604-905-5555.

Harajuku Izakaya

If you are looking for the best sushi in Whistler, consider Harajuku Izakaya (https://www.harajuku.ca), 205-4000 Whistler Way. It opened in 2011 and is located in the Royal Bank Building in Whistler Village. “Izakayas” are informal Japanese gastropubs popular throughout Japan known for quick, tapas-style food. Harajuku’s interior is inspired by a Japanese village in the early 1900s. The cozy nooks and large booths make it suitable for locals and visitors alike. 

We were extremely delighted with the selection so much so that we returned for a second time on the same trip. At home in Montreal we eat sushi frequently. Harajuku has a very original menu. Here is what we recommend. The Tuna Avocado Yukke includes diced Albacore tuna sashimi, avocado, marinated in sweet sesame soy sauce; the popcorn calamari is made with seaweed salted battered calamari; the Brie Cheese is breaded and deep-fried and served with mango sauce;  and the black cod is a fantastic miso marinated grilled black cod, with sautéed corn and bell pepper.  We continued with three  kinds of assorted sashimi (Albacore tuna, Sockeye salmon and Yellowtail). Next came  Avocado Oshi Sushi (Avocado, shiso herb, ginger, teriyaki mayo, seared);Salmon Avocado Poke (Atlantic salmon and avocado marinated with sweet sesame soy sauce and wasabi mayo); crispy tuna roll (Albacore tuna, avocado, green onion, tempura bits and spicy mayo) and Rock n’ roll ( tempura yam, avocado, cucumber, carrot, beats, shitake, soba and kabayaki sauce). Reservations are recommended. Call 604- 962-7222.

New York City Update: The Tony Award-winning The Band’s Visit and more

By Alexandra Cohen

NEW YORK BROADWAY UPDATE:There are many reasons to travel to New York City, but one most unique to the city’s soul is the extensive list of amazing Broadway musicals found at the heart of Times Square.  Let me recommend, in particular, the 10-time Tony Award winning Best Musical, The Band’s Visit. (www.thebandsvisitmusical.com).

Playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street), the production recently welcomed award-winning Israeli actor Sasson Gabay to the company in his Broadway debut. He is reprising the character he created in the 2007 film on which the musical is based.

Following the Tony Awards on June 10th, The Band’s Visit is now tied as the third most Tony Award-winning show in history and is one of only three shows in Broadway history to have won the “Big Six” awards (Best Musical, Best Actor—Tony Shalhoub, Best Actress—Katrina Lenk, Direction, Book, and Score). Thus far, due to popular demand, the show has been extended through June 2019, with the potential to extend even more.

The Band’s Visit opened on November 9 after being developed by a multi-award-winning team: music and lyrics by David Yazbek, whose previous credits include Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Full Monty, book by Itamar Moses, and direction by David Cromer.

As the musical begins, a series of well-intentioned mistakes land an Egyptian Police Band in a sleepy and remote village in the middle of the Israeli desert, which its inhabitants label as “boring” and “bland”.  One of the central characters, Dina (played with great magnetism by Tony Award-winner Katrina Lenk), describes the mood of her town best in the opening number, as “looking out into the distance even though you know the view is never going to change”

With no bus until morning and no hotel in sight, the band are taken in by the locals for one night that will in some way or another, change all of their lives. The Band’s Visit celebrates the deeply human ways in which music, longing and laughter can connect us all.

Although I must say that I expected this show to be quite serious in nature, I was pleasantly surprised by the simultaneous comic undertones. Although the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra are meant to perform at the Arabic cultural center in Petah Tikvah, Israel, a member of the band with poor English skills accidentally sends them to the similarly pronounced destination of Bet Hatikvah “with a B”, eliciting many laughs from the audience.

Yes, quite often it is the creative and witty lyrics that allow for laughter, including a particular line of song in which the words “awful” and “falafel” were used in a rhyme. However, as the connections between the Israeli locals and Egyptian visitors are forged, the story becomes unexpectedly moving. Although they are different, as shown in certain moments by the characters speaking their respective languages rather than English, they are also in many ways the same, and if that is not a universal message that this world needs, then I do not know what is.

It is rare to see a story like this on the Broadway stage. When reading through the Playbill prior to the show, I noticed many proud Israeli actors in the cast, one of which is actor Ari’el Stachel, who plays Haled and won a Tony Award for his portrayal this year.

At the telecast, when presented with his award, he had a few words to say. “For so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person,” he said. He thanked the creators of the show “for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time that we need that more than ever”.

He continued on to say: “I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races, and we’re doing that.”

The Original Broadway Cast Recording is now available from Ghostlight Records, which you can download online.

The North American Tour of The Band’s Visit will launch in Providence, Rhode Island in June 2019. Exact dates and additional cities will be announced at a later date.  As for international plans, producer Oren Wolf has said in interviews that there have naturally been some conversations about Israel. “I’m very interested in looking at some of the Middle Eastern markets,” he noted. ” It’s such a delicate show. I’ve described it like a piece of Kleenex that gets wet, so one pebble too many and it breaks. I just have to figure out the most delicate way to go into those other markets and if there’s a compelling reason to do it. If there is, I’ll be eager to roll up my sleeves and make it happen.”

Tickets ($49 – $169, including the $2 facility fee) are available at telecharge.com, 212.239.6200, or at the Barrymore Theatre box office (243 West 47th Street). For groups of 10 or more, please contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or 866.302.0995.

The performance schedule for THE BAND’S VISIT is: Tuesday – Thursday at 7pm; Friday & Saturday at 8pm; with matinees at 2pm on Wednesday & Saturday; Sunday at 3pm.

Info: www.TheBandsVisitMusical.com.

WHERE TO STAY:  I absolutely love the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.algonquinhotel.com). There was simply no other option when I booked this trip many months ago.

Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, this jewel of historic New York hotels commands 44th Street near 6th Avenue, just a short walk of a block and a half away from Times Square.

The Algonquin first opened its doors in 1902. Today, it is part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection, an evolving ensemble of strikingly independent hotels. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character, and uncommon details. The result is an array of properties that is nothing less than unique. The Algonquin Hotel was the first New York City property to become a part of the collection.   

For 100 years, the Algonquin has been greeting and lodging the country’s most prominent writers and literary personalities, as well as the leading figures of the American stage. The hotel is best known, perhaps, for the members of the Round Table, a group of luminaries who had in common both the ability to fire blazing witticisms and to withstand being on the receiving end of them.

After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. “By force of character,” observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”

Each of the 181 rooms and 25 suites features a comfortable well-lit work desk, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi.

When you enter the hotel, you come face to face with the casual Lobby Lounge, along with The Round Table Restaurant. Just to the left is the hotel’s trendy bar, aptly named The Blue Bar.

As a cat lover, I was of course excited to see Hamlet VIII, the  two-year-old orange cat who calls The Algonquin his home. According to hotel executive assistant Alice De Almeida, he was originally a feral cat found in Long Island and brought to the Bide-a-wee shelter (the oldest shelter in the Big Apple), where the Alonquin then adopted him as their own. He came to the hotel in July 2017 after their former cat, Matilda III, retired. “He is so friendly and loveable that people who never liked cats love  him.,” Alice says proudly. “He has great purrsonality!”

Hamlet has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as an email account.  “I take care of all his needs, front and back, vet visits and more,” says Alice.

Recently a group of feline fashion “mewdels” took to the runway (held safely in the arms of their owners) in one-of-a-kind outfits designed by certified animal fashion designer Ada Nieves, in celebration of Hamlet VIII . The annual Celebration & Cat Fashion Show had as is theme “The Purring 20’s”, the time of the great authors and celebrities who frequented the hotel’s famous Round Table. It also marked the official party debut of Hamlet, the young American shorthair ginger cat who reigns over the front desk and observes from his own private treehouse, endearing himself to hotel guests and visitors alike, with warm greetings.

Highlights of the evening included: cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts; the cat fashion show; a silent auction, and an on-site mobile adoption unit that was in front of the hotel that day. Additional funds were raised throughout the evening with raffle prizes, including a variety of pet products curated by the event’s co-chair, Pet Lifestyle Expert and author, Sandy Robins. All proceeds benefited the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.   Guests also got a look at advance copies of the new illustrated book, Hamlet – The Algonquin Cat, by Lesley Martini, with illustrations by Massimo Mongiardo, scheduled for release in September.

Based on the timeline of a book written by the hotel’s first general manager, the hotel is now proud to say that the lineage of The Algonquin Cat dates back to the early 1920s. Two days after this first cat, Billy, passed, another stray cat wandered into the hotel and The Algonquin welcomed Rusty. The famous classical actor, John Barrymore, best known for playing Hamlet on stage, was a resident at the time in the early 1930s, and Rusty was renamed Hamlet in his honor. The lineage thus far now includes eight Hamlets and three Matildas. Each cat that has reigned at The Algonquin has been a rescue.


The hotel’s executive chef cooks Hamlet special meals on holidays. He receives fan mail and gifts constantly from around the world. He has recently been the subject of a painting that hangs above the Front Desk, by New York artist Marcus Pierno. Hamlet can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  He can also be reached via email: hamletalgonquincat@algonquinhotel.com.

WHERE TO DINE:  Over the past year, I have been fortunate to experience the extraordinary cuisine of master chef Geoffrey Zakarian at two of his restaurants: Georgie at the Montage Beverly Hills, and Point Royal at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida. When looking for a place to dine near Times Square, I was pleasantly surprised to find another one of his restaurants, The Lambs Club, only a block away from our hotel.

bartender

Located at 132 West 44th Street, The Lambs Club offers  Zakarian’s modern approach to American cuisine with distinct ingredients, highly seasonal menus, and a signature approach to hospitality.

Zakarian and his talented culinary team marry their passion for food with their classical training to deliver exceptional dining experiences, whether it is a casual burger in The Bar or the sought-after Delmonico Steak in the main dining room. A team of skilled chefs put forth daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering guests dishes composed with the most seasonal and highest quality ingredients.  Wine Director A.J. Ojeda-Pons oversees a wine list that has secured Wine Spectator’s coveted “Two Glasses” distinction in their Restaurant Awards, where the restaurant is highlighted as one of the nation’s best. The World of Fine Wine quickly followed suit, presenting the restaurant with “Two Stars” in their World’s Best Wine List. On the cocktail list, guests will find both classic and innovative cocktails, created with fresh ingredients and house-made infusions – a true revival of the craft of cocktailing.

Inside The Lambs Club, guests are transported from the hustle and bustle of Broadway to the welcoming oases of the restaurant’s many one-of-a-kind spaces. The distinguished history that connects the landmark building to the Great White Way is prominently displayed in the main dining room, which boasts an enormous 18th century fireplace, a gift from Architect Stanford White.

We very much enjoyed our meal at the the 90-seat restaurant. From a house-smoked pastrami sandwich for lunch and a Creekstone 28-day, dry-aged Delmonico steak at supper, the menus here touch all of the bases. Situated just a block from Times Square, the Lambs Club provides the perfect setting for a pre- or post-theater bite, or even just an escape form the hustle and bustle.

Throughout a career spanning 30 years, Zakarian has made his mark as a chef restaurateur known for his sophisticated taste and signature style. An accomplished chef, host and culinary consultant, Zakarian has presided over some of the country’s top kitchens, traveling the world for new inspiration in a lifelong effort to deliver paramount hospitality experiences. He opened The Lambs Club in 2010 with his wife Margaret and partner David Rabin.

For reservations call 212.997.5262 or email reservations@thelambsclub.com

By Alexandra Cohen

Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller stars in Broadway’s Carousel

By Alexandra Cohen

NEW YORK-  The much-acclaimed revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic musical Carousel, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien and choreographed by 2018 Tony Award winner Justin Peck, of the New York City Ballet, will  play its final Broadway performance at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street) on Sunday, September 16, 2018.

Carousel actually initially premiered back in 1945. This production marks its fifth revival since then, following the tragic romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow and mill worker Julie Jordan, along with all that ensues in their small fishing town in Maine. At its heart, although it is a love story, it is even more so a story of redemption.

The show features a catalogue of much loved musical theatre standards, including “If I Loved You,” “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the latter of which brought the audience to tears after being sung by the spectacular opera singer and Tony-nominee Renée Fleming, making her Broadway debut.

Fleming, however, is not the only big name in Carousel, which is populated by Broadway veterans, including Tony Award-winner Jessie Mueller (previously known for originating the role of Carole King in Beautiful and for starring in Waitress), Tony nominees Joshua Henry and Alexander Gemignani, and this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actress in a Musical: the divine Lindsay Mendez.

Although the beautiful music is a focal point of the show, just as important was the dancing. The male ensemble delivers a fantastic ballet performance, led by the extraordinarily talented Amar Ramasar.

Plot-wise, to offset the darkness surrounding the tumultuous and sometimes violent relationship between Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, the two protagonists, we also have a lighter storyline which comes in the form of a more comic romance between Julie’s best friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Mendez), and an ambitious fisherman named Enoch Snow.

This revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel released a new cast recording on June 8, produced by Steven Epstein. Andy Einhorn and Sean Patrick Flahaven serve as executive producers.

Tickets for Carousel can be purchased online at carouselbroadway.com, via Telecharge.com or by phone at 212 239 6200, or by visiting the Imperial Theatre Box.

By Alexandra Cohen

Experiencing The Pan Pacific Vancouver Luxury Hotel

VANCOUVER – It was a beautiful summer day when we visited the Pan Pacific Vancouver  (https://www.panpacificvancouver.com) Hotel at Canada Place, so what better spot to stay than poolside at the sundeck? We thoroughly enjoyed the lovely outdoor facility, featuring a heated salt-water swimming pool and hot tub. There is also an indoor sauna for total relaxation. The panoramic views of the city, harbor and coastal mountains was impeccable. 

This spectacular 23 storey, 503 room hotel debuted on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront on January 8, 1986. It combines the warmth of Canadian hospitality with contemporary North American service excellence to provide a superlative experience for guests and visitors.  Since its completion, the hotel has attracted more royalty, visiting heads of state, and entertainment luminaries than any other hotel or resort property in Western Canada. 

During high season you can order drinks and food poolside; at other times there is a telephone for you to call in orders. Pool attendant Steve started us off with some drinks and provided us with a nice lunch menu. While I opted for a delicious grilled chicken sandwich and a small salad, the three other members of our party selected the house crafted Angus beef burger served on a sesame brioche bun. They also ordered small salads.

Located on the eighth floor, the poolside is so beautifully structured. We had plenty of room to spread out on the nice lounge chairs while a table with an umbrella provided us with the necessary shade and a spot to enjoy our lunch. The water temperature was ideal and we appreciated the assortment of noodles which enabled us to glide relaxingly in the pool.

I was fortunate to meet Stephen Peters, the distinguished and dynamic general manager. He was pleased to inform me that the hotel was 100 percent occupied at this time. We hope to come back and stay on the property when there is room somewhere down the line. I was very appreciative when Peters accepted my request for a personal tour. It was clear from the get go that he is a hands on GM. There are more than 400 people on staff here he clearly knew everyone who passed by us, from housekeepers to bellmen. We took a promenade through the main lobby, past some very nice shops, through the interior and exterior of the restaurant and right into the kitchen where we chatted with the chefs.  Next was a visit to the reservations centre and then to cruise ship level and the lovely Spa Utopia Health and Wellness Centre, which offers therapeutic  massage treatments and signature therapies. There are 26 treatment rooms, with private suites for couples and VIP spa suites as well.  Privately operated by Awni Abu-Ulba, the spa does indeed work closely with the hotel. In fact for those who book treatments in this sprawling 12,000 square foot spa, a day at the pool is added to the package. A nice fitness club is located at the same level.

Up we went next to see some of the rooms. In 2017 this hotel concluded a massive renovation program for all of its rooms. It features 225 double doubles, 237 kings, 10 city suites, 11 Bayview suites, 11 Mountain parlours (the two can be transformed into suites as you enter one door first to get the other two), two balcony suites and five luxury suites. Peters told me that rooms come in 30 different shapes and sizes.  

The rooms I saw all had exceptional view. One had a big window you can peer out of from the bathtub, with no worries since nobody can see in from the outside. On the 23rd floor sits the posh Pacific Club Lounge, available to guests staying on floors 21 to 23 which features 70 rooms and suites. Perks include priority check-in, a complimentary continental breakfast, a self-serve honour bar, concierge services, complimentary evening hors d’oeuvres and a nice work environment.

There is both valet and self-parking available.

As the hotel is located atop the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal, guests who are arriving or departing from this area merely need to walk through the terminal and take one elevator into the hotel. “When they check out,” said Peters, “our staff will bring their bags right to the cruise ship.”

Dining at Oceans 999

We enjoyed a wonderful dining experience at one of the hotel restaurants called Oceans 999. Boasting amazing mountain and harbour views, the restaurant serves up a delightful selection of Pacific Northwest cuisine prepared using fresh local ingredients. Savour an array of exquisite Italian dishes ranging from succulent fresh fish to hearty pastas on Saturday nights, or an impressive range of the chef’s favourites, including dim sum, savoury carved roasts and delectable desserts on Sunday nights. Our party of five was expertly guided by our server Harry. We started off with some drinks and shared some appetizers: the shrimp gyoza (sustainable shrimp and chive dumplings with sriracha aioli and ponzu dipping sauce) and a tempura prawn dynamite roll (oceanwise prawns, wasabi mayonnaise, Japanese chili sauce, mango and cucumber. There are nice salads and soups of the day. We tried a variety of main courses: the fish of the day, a Halibut served on a bed of couscous and some rice on the side; the butter chicken, with steamed onion and cumin scented basmati rice with crispy grilled poppadum; the tenderloin steak; lamb chops; and some fish and chips. The atmosphere was superb, with options to sit inside or on the terrace. A musician played nice music in the background. This is another way to experience this gorgeous property, especially if you are not staying here. The menu is on their website.

For more information about the hotel call toll free-free from Canada at 1-800-663-1515 and from the USA at 1-800-937-1515 or e-mail reservations@panpacificvancouver.com .

Mike Cohen can be reached at info@mikecohen..ca. Follow his travels at www.sandboxworld.com/travel or on Twitter @mikecohencsl.

The exceptional Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida

By Alexandra Cohen

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA:  A number of years ago, my family joined friends for dinner at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida (http://www.diplomatresort.com).  Looking around at the beautiful facilities, I distinctly recall hoping to experience the hotel in its entirety one day.

Recently, that wish came true, our visit coming soon after the completion of a $100 million transformation of this oceanfront, all-encompassing destination resort offering a fresh new take on vacationing for all business and leisure travelers. From the Atlantic coast to the Intracoastal, the reinvented resort pays homage to the hotel’s storied past as a social hub, with a modern take on design and amenities, including a luxurious spa and more than 10 new culinary concepts.

Upon entering the Diplomat, the first thing that you notice is an open concept lobby with sweeping views of the ocean via the floor-to-ceiling windows of The Hotel Bar- the property’s wraparound indoor-outdoor bar.

ACCOMMODATIONS: The Diplomat is now part of Curio Collection by Hilton, a global set of upscale hotels handpicked for their unique character. We stayed in a gorgeous Oceanview Double Deluxe Room with a balcony, providing a beautiful and completely unobstructed view of the ocean. Wonderfully appointed, this retreat is both original and modern, with a gracious lounge area and workspace as well as a generous bath with both a glass-enclosed shower and a separate deep-soaking tub. In-room indulgences – luxe robes, plush bedding and Bigelow bath amenities – enhance the experience of Florida beachside living at its finest.

With 1,000 guest rooms – including a Presidential suite, 515 king rooms, and 484 double rooms, with 96 being suites – The Diplomat is the largest hotel in Broward County. Designed by the world’s leading hospitality interior design firm, Hirsch Bedner Associates, the resort’s stylish and thoughtfully designed rooms offer sophisticated spaces, befitting the prime beachfront location in Hollywood. A strong sense of place is woven throughout, reflecting a glamorous oceanfront design that nods to the storied history of the Diplomat Hotel of the 1950’s. Carefully selected artwork throughout the property highlights the local-regional lifestyle, with modernized spaces harkening back to the hotel’s vibrant past.

All rooms feature unobstructed ocean or Intracoastal vantage points, while most suites boast 180-degree views of the tropical surroundings, including a variety of premier suites, the Governor and Presidential suites. Suites exude a mixture of midcentury elements with refreshing ocean tones, creating the perfect backdrop to relax and recharge completely with hand-tufted rugs, natural wood furnishings, crisp white bedding backed by driftwood headboards, and nautical touches that speak to the location. Guestrooms at the property depict two separate design schemes: Sunrise and Sunset. Sunrise rooms are modern, vibrant and refreshing with earthy tones that provide a soothing, calm atmosphere accented with blue ocean colors. Sunset rooms conversely present a subtler, more modern and organic design scheme with views overlooking the famous South Florida west horizon, giving guests a front seat view to stunning sunsets.

DINING OPTIONS: The Diplomat has no shortage of exceptional dining options. We were there for four nights, and via the “Diplomat Restaurant Group” (DRG) there were no less than 10 innovative and surprising culinary destinations to choose from. Guests are welcome to Dock & Dine at Diplomat Landing’s 7-slip marina with 350 feet of linear dock or park complimentary valet and self-parking for up to four hours when dining on property. Unique dishes and drinks highlight ingenuity and variety, using locally sourced ingredients and fresh mixes for cocktails created on-site. Each destination is rooted in strong culinary sensibilities and exudes brand individuality, creating distinct spaces and experiences.

Let us certainly recommend breakfast at Point Royal, a coastal restaurant also open for lunch and dinner. This is a large dynamic buffet filled with almost every breakfast option imaginable, from house-made pastries and an inventive cereal bar to egg dishes, salads and grains. The salad bar, for instance, includes arugula, mix greens, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, shaved radishes, cucumbers, pickled onions, parmesan cheese, poppy seed vinaigrette, cumin-lime vinaigrette and seasonal daily selections. You can choose from Florida smoked salmon, red onions, whipped cream cheese, capers, hard boiled eggs, assorted bagels, the Breakfast Reuben (corned beef, pickled cabbage, gruyère, scrambled egg, and comeback sauce), crispy breakfast potatoes, and much more. It is conveniently open from 6:30 am to 11:30 am.

Our first dinner was also at Point Royal (http://www.pointroyal-fl.com), part of famous chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s approachable American cuisine, complete with indoor/outdoor seating and a grand yet modern Raw Bar. We had previously experienced Zakarian’s excellent cuisine at his restaurant Georgie in Beverly Hills, so it was a given for us to pursue a reservation at Point Royal for dinner as well.

Complimentary parking is offered for guests who dine at Point Royal.  There were a variety of hand-crafted cocktails to choose from, and my dining partner opted for a satisfying rum passion fizz. While we looked at the menu, our fabulous server brought us some delicious cornbread and smoked honey butter (smoked in-house). Next, there was no question that we wanted to sample a seafood platter, so we opted for The Diplomat, featuring six oysters, six clams, an eight-ounce king crab, three pink shrimp, and half a Maine lobster. This was absolutely superb. We then shared some tossed heirloom lettuces, which included shaved carrots, radish, and aged sherry vinaigrette. The yellowfin tuna tartare, with avocado and chili-sesame seed vinaigrette, was next, followed by an order of roasted Maine diver scallops, which included baby turnips, fennel, herbs and smoked fish chowder. All in all, it was an amazing meal, which we capped off with the most decadent of desserts, a Black Forest meringue pie. The rich, dark chocolate pie crust was filled with a layer of sharp cherry curd, topped with light meringue rippled with dark chocolate.

We simply cannot wait to return and try some of the many other signature dishes, including the Pomegranate glazed short rib, steaks, the local black grouper, the grilled Spanish Octopus and the marinated baby kale just to name a few.

The next night, we also enjoyed a superb meal at Monkitail (https://www.monkitail.com), which won the top spot for Best Hotel Restaurant in USA Today’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards. After eating there ourselves, we no doubt understand why it was selected for this honor. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Schulson is at the helm; Monkitail is his seventh restaurant. The menu is a contemporary take on the classic izakaya, featuring shareable small plates and sushi as well as an array of specialty cocktails and saké. Surrounding an open robatayaki kitchen in the heart of the restaurant is a private dining area overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Tucked away beyond Monkitail’s main dining room is Nokku, a discreet cocktail lounge with four private rooms, each having full karaoke capabilities.

What an absolute treat this was! My dining partner started off with a blooming blossom drink from the cocktail menu.  We then proceeded to allow the chef to make a series of outstanding suggestions. This began with the hot Hamachi, toro caviar, and the big eye tuna special. The Edamame dumplings were specifically recommended to us, having won the nod for Best Bites of 2017 by noted South Florida food critic Michael Mayo. To say that this dish exceeded our expectations is an absolute understatement. As Mayo explains: “The dumplings are delicate and plump, round and dimpled, and resemble tortellini. They shimmer and almost float in a broth of sake and brown butter. They are stuffed with a delectable mix of pureed edamame, cream, truffle and caramelized scallion.”

The tasting continued with some Robatayaki lobster tail, skirt steak and short rib skewers, a duck scrapple bao bun, a tempura shrimp taco, an aged New York strip, and broiled sea bass with aioli and snap peas.  Just when we thought that the meal could not possibly get any better, our server brought us two excellent desserts. First came the fruit loop ice cream and almond joy, which came in mini cones. Next was a chocolate mousse with miniature brownies, cherries, and ice cream on top. What a meal! If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Hollywood, Florida, you must come to the Diplomat to dine.

Other food choices at the hotel include Bristol’s Burgers, Candy & Cones, Counter Point, Diplomat Prime, Nokku, Playa, Portico Beer & Wine Garden, and the Canteen, which includes snacks and ready-made sandwiches and salads. There is also the Diplomat Restaurant Delivery, providing room service from any of the dining establishments on the property.

For kosher food in Hollywood, you can try Sara’s, Big Apple Pizza, the Grand Café Espresso Bar, Hummus Factory, La’Chaim Meets China, Levinsky Roasting, Levy’s Kosher of Hollywood, Mizachi’s Pizza Kitchen, Mozart Cafe,  Pita Star,  Redwan’s Pita Bakery, Sylvia’s Kosher Place, Yum Berry Cafe and Sushi.

ACTIVITIES: The Diplomat is also perfect for family-focused guests, providing a variety of activities and amenities for all ages, meant to create happy, genuine and memorable vacation experiences.

In addition to the two beachfront pools, there is also jet skiing, ocean kayaking, paddleboard rentals, and the property’s newest addition, the Dip + Slide water play area. Designed with an interactive water bucket that playfully tips over when full, the area entertains young travelers and is strategically located to give parents a direct line of sight from the lagoon pool so they can still relax poolside. Pool amenities include complimentary towel service and full-service poolside lunch and spa services.

We marveled at panoramic views of the ocean from the edge of the infinity pool, which features a porthole bottom, and two waterfalls that cascade into the 240-foot lagoon pool below. You can cool off in the lagoon pool surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and sweeping views of the ocean. Conveniently, both pools are open from sunrise to sunset.

From sandcastle building and free arcade and poolside games to bounce houses and behind-the-scenes resort tours, guests aged four to 12 are always entertained and supervised at the fun-filled kids club, Ocean Ambassadors.

At The Diplomat Spa + Wellness Center, guests can recharge at the expansive 24-hour fitness center or get pampered at the new, full-service 14,000 square-foot spa overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. From healing massages and cleansing facials to energizing body treatments, a full-service spa experience awaits you. Before and after treatments, you can clear your mind in the relaxation room with a mesmerizing rain wall that invites calm. I had the opportunity to experience a 50-minute Diplomat Signature Spa Treatment, which I must strongly recommend. Be sure to make your spa reservations well in advance as space is limited. You can do so by calling the spa Concierge at 954.602.8400. A credit card is required to secure your appointment.

THE CABANA EXPERIENCE: Exclusively designed for The Diplomat, specialty cabanas created by fashion designer Trina Turk are available for rent on the lower floor of the pool deck, providing a relaxing and stylish oasis for the day. We were fortunate to spend an entire day in a private poolside cabana where we were pampered by the pool concierge and spoiled with generous amenities and a comfortable haven. Fourteen spacious poolside cabanas surround the lagoon pool and eleven upper cabanas offer a more secluded experience with sweeping ocean views from the upper deck. Located on the Lagoon Pool deck, poolside cabanas are equipped with flat-screen HD televisions, ceiling fans, mini-refrigerators stocked with six waters, interior seating with a table, a sun umbrella, two chaise lounges outside, and towel service. The cozy upper cabanas also come with amenities and services, which include interior seating with a table and sun umbrella, four chaise lounges outside, and towel service. Advanced reservations are recommended and are available to guests with a room reservation. Up to six guests may occupy an upper or lower cabana, both of which are open from 9 am to 6 pm.

While spending the day in our poolside cabana, we ordered lunch from Playa, a Beachfront Nuevo-Latina restaurant and bar featuring an extensive rum and tequila selection.

There is also The Diplomat Golf Club, The Diplomat Tennis Center and the Diplomat Marina. With 209,000 square feet of flexible function and meeting space, The Diplomat continues to serve as the premier location for business travel and large-scale conferences, weddings, and milestone celebrations.

BOUCHER BROTHERS ON THE BEACH: We were thrilled to discover that The Diplomat partners with the award-winning Boucher Brothers Management to pamper guests during their day on the beautiful Hollywood Beach.   We got to spend a day lounging in private daybeds and relaxing on a chaise for a luxurious take on ‘fun in the sun’. The team from the Boucher Brothers team could not have been nicer in setting us up, and they in fact came back several times during our stay to adjust the umbrellas and make sure everything was okay. Lunch and drinks were available right at our chairs. This service is available daily from 9 am to 6 pm. To reserve, call (954) 602-8690. When lunchtime came around, we started off with some drinks, followed by our burgers and chips. The orders were delivered in large plastic containers, with serving plates and cutlery inside.  In terms of beach rentals, run by the Boucher brothers and its BouYah Watersports Division (www.bouYahWaterSports.com), there are full and half day rates for chaise lounges, sand chairs, umbrellas, cabanas, and luxury queen and king beds. BouYah also rents out jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards. You can book your choice experience right at the hotel or call in advance and ask to be connected to someone from the Boucher Brothers team. This is an established firm with over 26 years of experience providing hospitality management solutions for resorts, hotels and condominiums.  They service dozens of hotels across Florida.  Kenny Gonzalez is the regional general manager covering Hollywood, Hallandale and Miami, and his team does a top-notch job.

LOCATION: Nestled between the aquamarine shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the peaceful Intracoastal Waterway, The Diplomat stands in the very heart of Hollywood. With an ideal location, the property’s transformation caters to those looking for seamless travel and local experiences with easy access to key destinations. The hotel is only 10 minutes from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, five minutes from Hollywood’s historic oceanfront Boardwalk, 10 minutes from world-class shopping at Aventura Mall, and 30 minutes from South Beach. Starting room rates in low season begin at $189/per night and $249/per night during high season (based on availability at time of booking). For reservations please call 1-954-602-6000. For more information, visit www.diplomatresort.com.

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hollywood Beach

By Alexandra Cohen

We have always enjoyed staying at  DoubleTree Resort by Hilton properties. After enjoying a nice experience last summer in Santa Monica, we were excited to find a newly branded addition to the chain in Hollywood Beach, Florida.

Checking in to a DoubleTree hotel always starts on a sweet note thanks to their signature, warm chocolate chip cookies.

Owned by Sotherly Hotels and managed by Chesapeake Hospitality, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hollywood (http://www.hollywoodbeachresort.doubletreebyhilton.com)   is located at 4000 South Ocean Drive, approximately eight miles from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. The hotel opened with its new identity last October after undergoing an extensive $7 million facelift.

Through its multi-million-dollar transformation, the property features 311 oversized guestrooms and suites, all with furnished balconies overlooking the property’s attractions. Along with a 24-hour business center, it houses 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including a stylish boardroom and an outdoor pavilion for up to 250 guests.

Each room comes with complimentary WiFi, a 37-inch HDTV, premium cable, a vanity area, a work desk, and a kitchenette, which includes a microwave, mini-refrigerator, and coffeemaker. We were able to open a sliding glass door and enjoy the view from our private and furnished balcony.

Situated near the ocean waves and white-sand beaches, the resort allows easy access for guests to hop on the Hollywood Trolley to tour Ocean Drive or to set off on the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi.   Family-friendly activities and outdoor recreation are at guests’ fingertips from walks along the beach to people-watching on the nearby Hollywood Boardwalk.

“This idyllic seaside resort is located between two of Florida’s biggest cities and travel hubs, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, making it easy for travelers to reach major airports, cruise terminals and to explore South Florida’s famous beaches,” said Dianna Vaughan, global head and senior vice president of DoubleTree by Hilton.


Guests will find American cuisine with Caribbean flair across the resort’s restaurant and bars. Its lobby nook, Made Market, offers Starbucks coffee, ice cream, snacks, and more. Port South Bar and Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring Caribbean Fusion and local seafood in an indoor and outdoor setting. The Port South Lounge serves tropical cocktails, domestic and imported beers, and fine wines. Just steps from the Intracoastal Waterway, guests can enjoy live music, cocktails and snacks from the poolside Lava Tiki Bar.

The resort’s spectacular amenities include an outdoor infinity pool and whirlpool, daily room service, and a 24-hour Fitness Center and Business Center.  We were beyond impressed with the beautiful and spacious pool area, with plenty of lounge chairs available. The Tiki Hut serves drinks, including different specials of the day, and we had a fabulous view of the intracoastal waterway, with boats passing by and music playing.  For lunch, we enjoyed some grilled quesadillas and shrimp tacos.

“The resort promises to make any vacation memorable – from breathtaking beaches to family-friendly attractions like the famous Boardwalk, Anne Kolb Nature Center or a jaunt to Fort Lauderdale or Miami,” said  General Manager Joseph A. Ruiz.As a local landmark, we look forward to welcoming guests under the trusted DoubleTree by Hilton brand.”

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hollywood Beach is also part of Hilton Honors, the award-winning guest-loyalty program for Hilton’s 14 distinct hotel brands. Members who book directly have access to instant benefits, including a flexible payment slider that allows members to choose nearly any combination of Points and money to book a stay, an exclusive member discount, free standard Wi-Fi, and access to the Hilton Honors mobile app.

Diamond and Gold members will enjoy free Wi-Fi and space-available upgrades to the hotel’s exclusive Hilton Honors floor. Additionally, Diamond members will receive the complimentary Wake Up DoubleTree BreakfastTM and 1,000 Bonus Points per stay. Gold members will have the option of a complimentary, continental breakfast or 1,000 Bonus Points per stay.

 

A Visit to Tampa Bay

When my family and I spent a previous winter vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida,  we found ourselves commuting to nearby Tampa on a fairly regular basis for shopping and dining. We liked what we saw and were sure to make it our base the next time around.

The hip, urban heart of Florida’s Gulf coast beats in Tampa Bay (www.visittampabaycom). Here cultural gems mingle with authentic history to create an atmosphere that inspires awe and adventure.  Whether your quest is for art spanning antiquity to the modern era, sensational live entertainment or other untold delights, imaginative and inspiring thrills await around every corner.

WHERE TO STAY: It was very nice to stay in the downtown area and the gorgeous Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina (www.tampamarriottwaterside.com), only eight minutes from the airport. Offering spectacular views, stellar service and a high-quality experience all around, this upscale  hotel is particularly well-situated for guest convention-goers or if you want to attend an NHL game with the host Lightning across the street at the Amalie Arena. And as I found out, it is a pretty good choice for a family vacation as well, with its central location, superb facilities and top-notch customer service.

This striking, 27-storey high-end property has more than 700 non-smoking rooms and suites that feature private balconies overlooking Harbour Island, downtown and the hotel’s 32-slip marina. All rooms include high-end signature bedding, flat-screen TVs that can connect with laptops and large, luxe bathrooms with the softest, fluffiest white towels and sleek granite counter-tops.

High-speed in-room internet is available for a daily service fee, and it is free in public spaces. General amenities include a palm-studded pool and groovy hot tub and a full-service spa/gym on the third floor, a business center and multiple newly renovated options for wining/dining that include white tablecloth fancy, sports bar casual, poolside grill and a lobby-side Starbucks cafe. There’s valet parking for a daily rate.   At night you can enjoy live music, adding to a very uplifting atmosphere.

Following   $2.5 million in improvements in 2013, the hotel is currently in the midst of a $40 million upgrade.  Every single room is getting a makeover, as will the lobby. The check-in desk will move to a pod format and a full service Starbucks is in the works, along with an expanded outdoor patio, an outdoor beer garden and an extremely popular Topgolf simulator, using real golf balls.

The Marriott Waterside is owned by businessman Jeff Vinik, who plans to build two more hotels virtually next door and each within breathing distance of his pride and joy, the Amalie Arena. Vinik also owns the Lightning.

My family really fell in love with the pool setting. For starters this is a good sized pool with plenty of seating options. Besides standard lounge chairs, there are many chairs and couches with soft and ultra-comfort  cushion covers and standalone large cushioned lounge chairs located next to gigantic umbrellas which will shield you from the sun. You can order drinks and food from the bar.

Boasting a prime Channelside location, this waterfront hotel is tucked between the Tampa Convention Center and the arena.   The marina and the popular Riverwalk are right outside your door – The Riverwalk being a 2.4 mile   path connecting culture and entertainment. I walked its distance several times and noticed plenty of bikers and those on Segways using the area as well.

We stayed in one of the magnificently newly renovated luxury suites on the 22nd floor. I must say that when the bellman opened the door we were left speechless by the space and beauty of what would be our home for five nights.

All rooms feature featherbeds and duvets, as well as flat-screen TVs and Plug-In technology. There was a pretty master bedroom, with a huge walk in closet and a door that closes leading to a very large living room that features a comfortable couch and two doors leading to an outdoor balcony with a beautiful view of the harbor. The room contained a small fridge, enabling us to pick up some groceries at the nearby Publix and make our own breakfast.

In our case, a request for a two bedroom suite was actually upgraded via a connecting room. This provided our family with the kind of personal space we are not usually accustomed to in a hotel room.  The renovations include sophisticated artwork, boasting a nautical theme (inspired by the waterfront location); textured flooring, replacing carpeting; and luxurious bathrooms featuring a unique barn door for added flexibility and a shower you will want to stay in all day.

New elevators feature neat touch screen pads to push what floor to go to.

The lobby bar offers cool cocktails and a stunning view of the marina and waterfront. Champions Bar and Grill showcases new additions in its impressive collection of sports memorabilia and décor, as well as offers the biggest games on new flat-screen TVs. For a quiet meal, Café Waterside features new intimate seating arrangements along with stunning water views and a delicious menu. Champions is about to be transformed into an American Gastro Pub format,

While we did take advantage of the 24 hour room service, one night we chose to stay at the hotel and have dinner at the Waterside Grill. Let me strongly recommend this as a dining choice whether you are staying at the hotel or not. The restaurant offers a relaxed atmosphere and delicious American cuisine.  You can feast on fresh seafood, prime steaks, expertly crafted cocktails and decadent desserts.  They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can dine inside or on the terrace facing the Tampa waterfront.

A couple of glasses of wine, pino grigio and chardonnay, allowed us to toast to a good evening ahead. Executive Sous Chef Rich Willerer has worked in the kitchens of many top restaurants in North America. For the past nine years he has called this hotel in Tampa home.  He is very proud of an initiative he took with other local chefs to form a coalition and help Tampa restaurants get better suppliers and more farm to table artisan ranchers, growers and farmers.

Chef Willerer personally greeted us with some of his homemade appetizers and a special order of devilled eggs with caviar. As there were three of us, he suggested we consider sharing some items, to which we agreed. It was a good decision and made for a very enjoyable dining experience.

First came some pistachio crusted sea scallops with lemon marmalade and bacon jam. That was followed up with some refreshing bowls of fruit and vegetables mixed together with a vinaigrette sauce. Next came a grilled local swordfish with coconut risotto, bok choy and guava cream. I have always been a fan of swordfish and this combination with the risotto was just perfect. The chef recommended we try some steak. The wood-grilled Delmonico was cooked an absolutely perfect medium, with sherry creamer potatoes, rainbow carrots and a delicious sauce.

For dessert we shared an outstanding piece of apple pie with vanilla gelato, a tasty order of flan and a decadent piece of chocolate cake. This was a meal that indeed exceeded our expectations. You can read the menus on the hotel website or call 813-221-4900 for reservations.

CITY PASS AND ATTRACTIONS: Like other cities when you want to play the role of tourist, get the CityPass (https://www.citypass.com/tampa#6QcVgMcR8yS4QVcg.99).  It is only $143.29 for adults and $129.77 for children. This includes admission to Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium, the Lowry Park Zoo, the Clearwater Marina Aquarium and either the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) or the Chihuly Collection.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (www.buschgardenstampa.com) is the ultimate family adventure, offering 300 acres of fascinating attractions based on exotic explorations around the world. A unique blend of thrilling rides, one of the country’s premier zoos with more than 12,000 animals, live shows, restaurants, shops and games, this spot provides unrivaled excitement for guests of every age. Normal park hours are 10 am to 6 pm. with a 365-day operating schedule. Hours are extended during select weekend, summer and holiday periods. Strollers, wheelchairs, lockers and pet kennels are available for rental. Wheelchair seating is available at all facilities, and assisted listening devices are offered at several attractions. Diaper-changing and baby-nursing areas, first aid, an automated teller machine and taxi and bus parking may be found on-site. The park’s newest attraction puts a spin on family thrills with Cobra’s Curse. This one-of-a-kind spin coaster features a 70-foot vertical lift and takes riders on a whirlwind adventure of exciting explorations. Located in the Egypt area of the park, explorers will come face-to-fang with an 80-foot snake icon, and discover the mysteries of an Egyptian archaeological excavation. Busch Gardens® welcomes guests to closely observe and even take part in the animal care experience in the Animal Care Center. From nutrition to treatments, X-rays to surgeries, much of Busch Gardens’ animal care is now conducted in guest view in this new state-of-the-art facility. The Moroccan Palace Theater is home to Busch Gardens’ spectacular, year-round ice skating shows. This summer, the Palace debuts the hottest show on ice, Turn It Up! This all-new ice show vibrantly celebrates summer with contemporary performances, aerial moments and eclectic pop music.  Tour packages are available and they create fun and fascinating behind-the-scenes explorations that give guests a unique insider perspective. From connecting with endangered species to front-of-line access at the most popular attractions, there is basically a tour for every member of the family.

Located right across the street from Busch Gardens is Adventure Island’s (www.AdventureIsland.com) 30 acres of water-drenched fun in the sun. It features the ultimate combination of high-speed thrills and tropical, tranquil surroundings for guests of all ages. Within a soothing Key West atmosphere awaits an unrivaled blend of slides, corkscrews, waterfalls, a wave pool, children’s water playground and other family attractions. Adventure Island also features outdoor acres, picnic and sunbathing areas, a gift shop and a championship sand volleyball complex for hours of fun in the sun. You can access their full accessibility guide on their website.

The Florida Aquarium (www.flaquarium.org) is one of the top of its kind in the country, with over 20,000 sea creatures! Here you can experience sharks, alligators, otters and more while encountering ring-tailed lemurs, hissing cockroaches and colorful chameleons in Journey to Madagascar.  After exploring the exhibits inside, splash away outside at Splash Pad, the outdoor water play area for children.

At Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo (www.lowryzoo.org) you can see more than 1,200 animals, including manatees, koalas, elephants, tigers, penguins, giraffes, orangutans and much more. Enhance your visit with water play areas, rides and educational shows a five-time winner of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence (2010-2015), this is recognized as one of the most popular zoos in the southeastern U.S., with over one million visitors annually. The Zoo originated in the 1930s as a municipal department with a small number of Florida native species. It grew gradually throughout the next four decades, but struggled to meet the developing professional standards of modern zoos. In 1982, community leaders created the Lowry Park Zoo Association to take over management of the Zoo for the City of Tampa with the goal of creating a world-class zoo through a public-private partnership. The Association then became the Lowry Park Zoological Society of Tampa, Inc., as it remains today. Working with a national zoo designer, the Society was able to create a modern, 24-acre facility that opened to the public in 1988 and shortly after earned Accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has now grown to what now encompasses 56 acres of naturalistic animal exhibits in a lush, tropical garden setting. The Zoo offers popular educational programming, fun recreational amenities, up-close animal encounters and engaging seasonal events for which it has won accolades as one of the country’s most family-friendly zoos.

Tampa’s Museum of Science & Industry, better known as MOSI (www.mosi.org), is a scientific playground with more than 450 hands-on activities in the largest science center in the southeastern United States. You can see the stars in The Saunders Planetarium, explore another world in their NASA-funded Mission: Moon base lunar colony and touch the future in the next exhibit, Connectus. MOSI’s innovative exhibits urge you to ask questions and expand your mind. The museum shows you how cool curiosity can be – there are no tests or quizzes here.  This place sparks conversations about the world and the future among kids and their grandparents, between spouses, and with strangers. There’s no other place like it in Tampa Bay. Plans call for a brand new MOSI to be built in the downtown area. For now, its current campus on East Fowler Avenue across from the University of South Florida is running strong.

MOSI is intent on creating an inclusive guest experience where everyone can participate in the excitement of science. Many of its exhibits offer multi-sensory interactive experiences. If you are concerned about too much sensory stimulation, ask a MOSI staff member or volunteer about what you might expect while exploring the exhibits. MOSI is wheelchair accessible. Automatic doors are located at the main entrance from the MOSI Entry Plaza and parking lot. Handicapped parking spaces are available near the entrance to MOSI. The property surrounding the museum is paved. Wheelchairs are available at no additional cost on a first-come, first-served basis at the MOSI Ticket Office. Guests must leave a driver’s license or credit card at the ticket office until the wheelchair is returned.

Some exhibit areas may be dim due to the nature of the exhibition. Although visitors requiring assistance from a service animal are welcome, MOSI reserves the right to limit access that may pose safety or health concerns. If you require an accommodation for your visit, please contact Anthonette Carregal, Vice President of Museum Operations, at least 15 working days prior to your visit by calling (813) 987-6333 or by email at acarregal@mosi.org. For hearing impaired assistance, call the Florida Relay System at 711.

If you are in the downtown area, then I recommend you stop by the Unlock Tampa Bay Visitors Center. Kevin Wiatrowski from Visit Tampa Bay was kind enough to give me a walking tour of the downtown streets and he was very proud to show me this storefront location at 201 North Franklin Street which only opened last summer. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm. Here you will get excellent local advice on attractions, restaurants, and things to do during your stay. The staff is very knowledgeable. Make sure to check out the exceptionally neat gift shop, which includes a curated selection of Tampa-themed memorabilia and apparel.

The TECO Historic Streetcar runs from downtown to Ybor City (the Latin Quarter) and has a stop right outside the Marriott Waterside.  The TECO Manatee Viewing Center at the Big Bend power station is a nice place to check out manatees this time of year. Hundreds of them gather in the warm water emitted from the power station. There’s a nature center and a short walking trail through the mangroves.

The Pirate Water Taxi provides hop-on, hop-off service along the waterfront and stops near the Marriott Waterside as well.

STRAZ CENTER: While in town we secured tickets for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Concert, featuring the Florida Orchestra at the magnificent Straz Center for the Performing Arts (www.strazcenter.org). Cars fly, trees fight back, and monsters are on the loose in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts! This concert featured the film, with the orchestra performing John Williams’ unforgettable score. A capacity crowd loved every moment of it. Watch for this to come to a city near you. The question is, can any place do it better than the Straz?

A year earlier we saw the Broadway hit An American in Paris while in town. We simply love this venue and were literally looking for an excuse to return. There is ample parking in the nearby Poe Garage, which actually has a covered walkway connected from the Straz for easy access

The Straz is the largest performing arts center in the Southeast and the only one with an on-site performing arts conservatory. It was incorporated in 1980 and opened in 1987. In the early 1990s, the Straz Center (then known as Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) established arts education as a community priority, working closely with area public, private and home school programs to enhance arts education for children throughout the seven-county Tampa Bay area. Outreach programs included curriculum connectors to Florida education standards and teacher study guides in print and online. The Straz Center’s extended in-school artistic residencies, summer programs and after school offerings helped to fill the increasing gaps in arts education left by budget cuts. Since 1991 the Straz Center’s Education department housed programs such as Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra and Community Arts Ensemble, a free summer theater day camp that served urban children in need by connecting them with nationally known artists in a rehearsal-based process. Each summer, an original musical play was written and produced especially for that year’s group of up to 100 children to perform in a fully-staged production for friends and family in one of the Straz Center’s main halls.

If you are headed to Tampa in 2018 there are some great Broadway shows booked such as  Forever Plaid, Phantom of the Opera, The Color Purple, The Bodyguard, Beautiful – the Carole King Musical, Waitress, Sound of Music, The Illusionists and Cinderella. The spectacular tour of Hamilton will land at the Straz for the 2018-2019 season. You can also check out Opera Tampa, which produces   the highest caliber presentations.

THE LIGHTNING AND AMALIE ARENA:  I made my first visit ever to the   Amalie Arena (originally called the Ice Palace), which opened on October 12, 1996. How lucky could I be? On  the night I was available, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning happened to be hosting my hometown Montreal Canadiens. A visit here, regardless of the event taking place, is an absolute must.

(Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson/Tampa Bay Lightning)

Start off by checking the schedule for the Lightning. It was very nostalgic for me to be in the press box. Twenty-five years earlier when Tampa entered the National Hockey League as an expansion franchise I was among a group of journalists invited for a visit. Naturally, one of the things the local tourism board wanted to showcase to the Montreal media was the arrival of the NHL to Tampa.  So off we went to the temporary home of the Lightning, the 11,000 seat Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds for an exhibition game. With my tape recorder and microphone in hand, I requested for and received a one-on-one interview with hockey legend Phil Esposito. He was president and general manager of the new team and the man solely responsible for bringing pro hockey to town, having persuaded a consortium of Japanese businesses to provide the necessary capital.

The first few years were rough for the Lightning, with significant financial losses. They withstood the challenges. As ownership changed hands a few times, Esposito was eventually ousted in his role. He is adored in this city. Outside of the arena there is a bronze statue of him.  He also serves as a commentator for home game radio broadcasts.

Having spent the past week in Tampa, it was clear what a hockey mad city this is. Everywhere you go there seem to be signs on buildings saying “Go Bolts!” or “Be the Thunder!” At the AMC Theatre we went to, there were photos of Lightning players in the hallway leading to the ticket counter. On major streets, there are oriflammes featuring Lightning team members.

I knew my visit to Tampa would not be complete without meeting Esposito again. I congratulated him for what he brought to this city and asked how proud it made him to see the hockey franchise thriving on its 25th anniversary. “Very proud,” he said, “and thank you.”

The Amalie Arena is a fantastic hockey venue. The outside actually more resembles a football or baseball stadium and before each game there is a lot of action going on.

I really liked the game presentation. It started off with the American national anthem sung by a female sergeant from the US Army, who got a warm ovation. At each home game, $50,000 is presented to a community hero. On the scoreboard a Lightning player moderates a short slideshow of the recipient whom they show live at the end holding a Tampa sweater. In this case it was the director of a non-profit pre-school was highlighted. By the time her story was told, fans gave her a standing ovation. They did the same for another member of the US Army who had his story of bravery recounted.

McDonald’s sponsors a short feature called “Small Fries” as the camera catches the cutest little kids in the crowd. Like Montreal, they have the Kiss Cam. But at the end, instead of embarrassing couples to pucker up, they look for someone without a significant other and play the song “All By Myself.” On this night, they chose a fan with a Habs jersey.

The arena, also home to the Arena Football League’s Tampa Bay Storm, has hosted numerous high-profile events including the 1999 NHL All-Star Game, the 2007 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament, the 2008 NCAA Women’s Final Four, the 2009 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, the 2012 Republican National Convention, the 2012 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four and more. In August 2014, local Tampa Bay company Amalie Oil entered an agreement for the naming rights to the arena.

Amalie annually hosts more than 150 events ever year, which ranks among the top venues in North America. The facility encompasses 670,000 square feet with three decks and seven separate levels. The building is 133 feet 10 inches in height and 493 feet in diameter. Two hundred and forty-two new sport lights have been installed to increase game night lighting by doubling the foot-candle levels, exceeding all NHL standards and enhancing HD broadcasts. LED display boards that circle the entire area feature 1.7 million square pixels for pure viewing pleasure.

FOX RENT A CAR:  In late 2011, Tampa International Airport officials began the process of updating the Master Plan for the 3,300-acre campus. The final plan, approved in 2013, will allow the airport to accommodate up to 35 million passengers each year, and is divided into three distinct phases: Decongestion, enabling and expansion. It allows a “build as demand dictates” approach to growth, with phases based on passenger volume.

The first phase, which is scheduled for completion in 2018, helps decongest the curbsides, roads and main terminal, and includes a 2.6 million-square-foot Rental Car Center, a 1.4-mile automated people mover and an expansion of the main terminal. Upon disembarking, passengers board a train (The SkyConnect  Automated People Mover System) which brings them to the brand new rental car terminal.

This brings me to Fox Rent A Car (www.foxrentacar.com). On our trip last year to St. Petersburgh, Florida we had our first experience with Fox in Tampa and we were extremely pleased with the service. It was therefore a no brainer to book with them again.

As of this writing Fox was about to move into the new rental facility (in February 2018) at the airport. For our visit though, as is the case for other cities where Fox is present, we relied on a shuttle and the process went very smoothly.  Our driver helped load and unload all of our luggage. It was a pleasant 10 minute drive, where Senior airport Operations Manager Alejandro Rosquete Sr. greeted us. Not only did he remember exactly who I was from a year earlier, but he had total recall for what make of vehicle I drove away with. It was a brand new Chrysler 300, an experience we liked so much we ordered a repeat. Alejandro brought the car around and proceeded to show us all of the features. We took the $6.99 per day option for the tolls, which allowed us to cruise right through the special Sun Pass lanes saving us time. At Fox you’ll find economy cars, family-size cars, SUVs, mini-vans and luxury or sport vehicles available for your discount rental.

The Tampa operation is managed by Edgar Hernandez, who has been with Fox since the company first arrived in Florida six years ago. In addition to Tampa, their Sunshine State locations include Orlando, Fort Myers, Miami and Fort Lauderdale.  Prices here are significantly better than the competition.

The Tampa location is open 24 hours a day. For more information call (800) 225-4369 Ext. 1 or (310) 641-3838 Ext. 1

Fox is now  the fifth largest car rental company in the US and it continues expanding globally   with new locations open for reservations in the popular tourist markets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Merida, Mexico, Auckland, New Zealand, Fort McMurray, Alberta and Istanbul, Turkey, Aruba, Antigua, Barbuda and Poland. Fox is recognized as a discount car rental company and let me assure you they beat their competitors in terms of price and customer service by a mile.

Fox was founded in 1989 as a value-based car rental brand catering to airport travellers. Actively managed and owned by its founders, Fox has enjoyed robust growth for over 25 years. Fox offers consumers great value, convenience and superior service at 19 major corporate owned airport locations across the US plus 115 plus affiliate locations in 33 countries and a growing roster of international partner locations at www.foxrentacar.com.

For customer service call toll free (800) 225-4369 Ext. 9 Fox does assist with reserving vehicles with hand controls. Fox cannot provide hand controls on every make or model of vehicle, and cannot confirm a reservation for a particular make or model of vehicle on any rental. Please call (800) 225-4369 at least 72 hours in advance to make your reservation. For assistance with a wheelchair-accessible shuttle, you can call (929)-346-0099.

Back to the airport expansion in Tampa. Phase 2 includes a curbside expansion and 17-acre commercial development around the rental car center. The commercial development area will feature an office building, convenience store with gas station, hotel, and a commercial curb to accommodate transit and other ground transportation, and connections to regional trail networks. The curbside expansion will include new express lanes exclusively for passengers without checked luggage.

Phase 3 will includes the construction of a new Airside D with 16 gates capable of handling both domestic and international flights

Saddlebrook Resort (Tampa)

Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Florida

WESLEY CHAPEL, FLORIDA– Some 25 years ago I was part of a press tour to Tampa.  Our group was hosted at spectacular place called the Saddlebrook Resort (www.saddlebrook.com) in the suburb of Wesley Chapel – a half hour drive from downtown Tampa. I could not believe my good fortune when I was given the keys to my own private town house condominium.

I never forgot my experience at Saddlebrook, so when we recently set our sights on another trip to Tampa I targeted this 480 acre property for a return visit. We were fortunate to spend five nights there. The three of us booked a 950-square-foot two-bedroom suite. It included a spacious living room, separate dining area and a fully-equipped kitchen with a serving bar. The master bedroom boasts a King bed as well as a separate dressing area and elegant marble bathroom. The second bedroom is thoughtfully-appointed with a Queen bed, as well as an additional dressing area and marble bathroom. Both bedrooms offer complete privacy. These spacious two-bedroom suites also feature a private patio or balcony that is accessible from the living room.  There were two in-room safes.

Saddlebrook formally opened in 1981, with a unique car-free Walking Village design that allows guests to easily walk throughout the resort without the need of a transportation system while providing sanctuary to nature. Thomas L. Dempsey, who was chairman and CEO of Penton Publishing, a subsidiary of the Fortune 500 Pittway Corporation, developed the resort. He envisioned a spot that would allow guests to experience a side of Florida many had never seen, an abundant wildlife that thrives because of the preservation of surrounding lakes and woodlands. The resort itself is located within a gated and secure nature preserve that is home to colorful birds such as Sandhill Cranes, Wood Storks and Great Blue Herons to Snowy Egrets and even gators, along with verdant vegetation that exists in harmony with the natural layout of the hotel grounds.

Dempsey purchased the resort from his employers, Pittway in 1988, and remains chairman and CEO as well as a full-time resident. Saddlebrook now operates as an independent family-owned resort in the grand style and tradition typified by the nation’s finest properties. Over the years, the resort has continued to flourish, becoming an acclaimed destination for Tampa conferences and events as well as a nationally-recognized training center for golf and tennis. In 1992, the Saddlebrook Preparatory School was founded designed to offer student athletes a comprehensive educational experience with concurrent enrollment in either the Saddlebrook Tennis Program or Saddlebrook Golf Academy. Saddlebrook Prep is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Florida Council of Independent Schools.

Saddlebrook Resort is a certified Florida Green Lodging property. As you walk, jog, or bike along pathways of this eco-friendly Tampa Bay resort, be sure to take in the tropical landscaping and views that surrounds the property.

During your stay, you may catch a glimpse of the area’s colorful wildlife, which includes an array of birds from Sandhill Cranes, Wood Storks and Great Blue Herons to Snowy Egrets, and wildlife, even alligators. Fragrant flowers compliment the swaying palms and stately cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss beckoning guests to explore and convene with the elements.

Saddlebrook recently completed a nearly $2 million renovation on its signature Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, which included the addition of an advanced irrigation system. This computer-controlled system uses only a fraction of the water required by a typical Florida golf course.

The resort’s eco-friendly laundry facility features an extremely high temperature wash cycle and use only mild biodegradable detergents in all of our processes.

Saddlebrook maintains some exceptionally beautiful natural corridors, which not only enhance the guests’ enjoyment, but serves to protect several plant and animal species indigenous to the area. This includes the Great Egret and the Bald Cypress Tree, two key endangered species of flora and fauna that are fighting for a place in the local wetland ecosystem.

With over 40 percent of electrical energy consumption associated with climate control, Saddlebrook has installed active climate control systems in guest rooms and meeting facilities. The conference center is computer-controlled to cool only the rooms that need it, at exactly the right levels. Similarly, when guest rooms are unoccupied, thermostats are turned down to a predetermined setting, which keeps the room fresh, but does not cool excessively.

When it comes to guest room transportation, resort maintenance and golf course use, the majority of the carts in the Saddlebrook fleet run on rechargeable electric batteries. Not only is this better for the environment, but also results in less noise pollution so you can fully enjoy your resort experience. By using a model of central parking and providing bus transportation for  team members, it is calculated that on average about 200 miles per day of cars being driven on the open roads is saved.

This Florida hotel and conference center is completely self-contained, with restaurants, spa, golf, tennis, fitness facilities, three pools and an outdoor team building course all on-site.

The restaurants at Saddlebrook offer both fine and casual award-wining dining served by our signature hospitality. Whether you are entertaining executives at Dempsey’s Steak House, enjoying a post-game lunch while overlooking the 18th green at, or enjoying a fresh breakfast with the family at Tropic’s Restaurant, options are sure to delight every palate. The hotel also   offers In-Room dining services 24 hours a day.

Regarded as one of the best steak houses in the country, Dempsey’s   serves prime beef and fresh seafood in traditional setting.  Enjoy a hearty Aged Porterhouse, Bone-In Filet Mignon, or market fresh seafood including Colossal Shrimp or Pan Seared Wild Salmon. Don’t forget to try our famous table-side Caesar Salad.

When you need to clear your mind and rejuvenate your senses, treat yourself to a day of pure pampering at The Spa at Saddlebrook. This 7,000-square-foot European-style spa has 12 treatment rooms, separate men’s and women’s dressing rooms, each with a steam room.  Sauna, and whirlpools feature a full menu of spa and salon services as well as whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, and a courtyard terrace for lounging, sunbathing and dining. The professionally trained and licensed practitioners at the spa are skilled in a variety of therapies including traditional Ashiatsu, and as massage techniques ranging from sports recovery to reflexology and hot stone treatments.

In addition to the world-class golf courses and tennis courts, the fitness facilities at Saddlebrook cater to every interest and skill level. The Sports Village features grass and sand volleyball courts, a regulation-size basketball court and a Field Turf sports field. The refreshing waters of the 500,000-gallon free-form Superpool are a highlight of any stay. There are two additional pools at the resort, including the adults-only Serenity Pool.

Bicycle rentals and fishing poles are available at The Swim Shop, and the resort also offers a variety of scheduled activities from morning power walks and group fitness classes to poolside games. Families visiting the resort can take advantage of S’Kids Club, a fun-filled program for guests.

To reserve your stay today at Saddlebrook Resort or contact a Reservations Agent toll-free at 800.729.8383 or locally at 813.907.4401. You might enjoy the place so much you will consider buying a unit. The sales office is located right next to the registration center.

SUPERB SHOPPING NEARBY: Located just 10 minutes from the resort, The Shops at open-air village with 800,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment Wiregrass is an options. Stroll through well-known department stores like Macy’s, as well as over 100 specialty and designer shops in this pedestrian-friendly destination. Five minutes from The Shops at Wiregrass the new Tampa Premium Outlet Mall is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, plus 110 shops including Calvin Klein, Coach, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.  Thirty minutes away, International Plaza and Bay Street is home to Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s and nearly 200 specialty stores as well as “Only at Bay Street,” an open-air village with unique restaurants and boutiques. We went to this locale a number of times and really enjoyed the experience.

HELLO RUBY TUESDAY:  We were thrilled to find a fantastic Ruby Tuesday Restaurant about 20 minutes from Saddlebrook at 17520 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.  Being from Canada, with no Ruby Tuesday locations to enjoy, this is a real treat for us which is why we went there twice. We like the menu and especially appreciate the generous salad bar.  There are so many different selections. The staff were very nice. Right next door is a large AMC Movie Theatre, which we took advantage of right after dinner. Just over a year ago Ruby Tuesday closed nearly 100 under performing locations. Happily, this was not one of them.

 

 

 

The Don CeSar at St. Pete Beach

Historic Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach

ST. PETE BEACH – Just over a year ago my family and I made our first visit ever to St. Pete Beach, Florida and stayed at the extraordinary and historic Don CeSar Resort (www.doncesar.com). It was a Loews property at the time. Soon after Host Hotels & Resorts purchased it and engaged Davidson Hotels & Resorts to manage the main locale and the Beach House Suites down the street.

The Don CeSar opened at the height of the Great Gatsby era in 1928. Known as Florida’s iconic “Pink Palace,” The Don CeSar is reminiscent of a Mediterranean-style castle set upon the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico in St. Pete Beach. A AAA Four Diamond property, National Historic Landmark and member of the Historic Hotels of America, The Don CeSar features 277 luxurious guest rooms including 36 suites, six restaurants and lounges, two deluxe heated pools, more than 38,000 sq. ft. of event space, the 11,000 sq. ft. Spa Oceana, fitness center, Camp CeSar Kids Camp, The Shoppes of The Don, and access to beach rentals and water sports.

We were very fortunate to be invited back for a lavish day on the beach and let me say for certain that the Don has not lost any of its charm!

Last year we were actually based at the Beach House Suites, taking the very short commute back and forth to the much larger Don CeSar. Guests at the former can take advantage of  the full resort privileges at the Don CeSar, where room charging options are available  at Spa Oceana, shops, and restaurants, including the award-winning, Four-Diamond, Maritana Grille and the Rowe Bar.

The poolside concierge provides everything from cucumber hydration to tropical smoothies.

For those who are physically disabled, the pools and whirlpools at both complexes have special lifts.

The Don CeSar Hotel partners with the award-winning Boucher Brothers Management to pamper guests during their day on the beautiful St. Pete Beach. Take a walk from the pool deck and have some fun on the Gulf of Mexico, seeing the beautiful pink castle from a different view while cruising on wave runners or exploring on ocean kayaks. We got to spend our day lounging in private daybeds and chilling out on a chaise for a luxurious take on fun in the sun. Jimmy from the Boucher Brothers team could not have been nicer in setting is up like kings. He in fact came back several times over our seven hour stay to adjust the umbrellas and make sure everything was okay.

Lunch and drinks were available right at our chairs via the Beachcomber. Here you can enjoy frozen drinks, mojitos, fresh seafood, salads, burgers and other traditional dishes such as the NY Strip Steak Salad, grilled pineapple, tomato, jicama, crispy tortilla and sweet onion vinaigrette, Gulf Fish Tacos with soft corn tortillas, lettuce, salsa, queso fresco, chipotle crema and jicama citrus slaw, and the Foot-Long Dog with pork carnitas, jalapenos, and bread & butter palm of hearts. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to Sundown. We started off with some drinks, an Iguana Smash, a Blueberry blast and a Pina Colada followed by our lunch selections of tortilla chips, fish tacos, a Beachcomber burger and chicken quesadilla. The orders turned around quite quickly and were delivered in large plastic containers, with serving plates and cutlery inside. I have never felt so comfortable dining on a beach chair before.

In terms of beach rentals, run by the Boucher brothers  and its BouYah Watersports Division (www.bouYahWaterSports.com), there are full and half day rates for chaise lounges, sand chairs, umbrellas, cabanas and luxury queen and king beds.

We also took advantage of the Jet Ski rentals. It is $120 per hour or $60 for a half hour after lunch time. You will save some money if you book it in the morning. The staff will sit you down in the Jet Ski in the water, provide a series of guidelines and then allow you to start the motor and go on your merry way. This was a real “rush” for my family. The one hour went by very quickly.

BouYah also rents out banana boats, kayaks and paddle boards.

You can book your choice experience right at the hotel or call in advance and ask to be connected to someone from the Boucher Brothers team.

As for things to do at the hotel, don’t miss a trip to Uncle Andy’s Ice Cream Parlor for some homemade ice cream. Go shelling on the white powder beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Take part in hourly games and activities for children of all ages, including sand-castle building, treasure hunts and obstacle courses. Check out the indigenous fish in the aquarium off lobby.

Kids from aged four to 12 can spend the day exploring the beaches and garden surroundings of the Don. Exciting and kid-friendly activities include beach crafts, seashell hunting, and castle contests, pool games and special Kids Night Out events. You must provide 24-hour advance reservations by calling 727-360-1881 x2233.

For teens the hotel offers a combination of entertaining, fun and educational activities to occupy your hard-to-please teens and tweens who receive music download cards, a list of nearby tourist attractions, activities and shopping geared to teens and access to a lending library of Gameboys, DVD players, board games, and more.

Tampa Dining Tips

Tampa Bay’s cuisine is just as unique and rich as its culture. Sip on lavish libations at the many waterfront bistros and bars. Take a bite into some culinary diversity. Discover fine dining or farm-to-table restaurants and enjoy fresh seafood and authentic Spanish dishes.

Here is a look at some restaurants I experienced.

THE COLUMBIA RESTAURANT:   When in Tampa, you must experience Florida’s oldest restaurant and in fact the largest Spanish dining establishment in the world. The Columbia Restaurant (www.columbiarestaurant.com) was founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez Sr.  It began in Tampa’s Ybor City, (pronounced EE-bore) as a small 60-seat corner cafe known for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches, frequented by the local cigar workers.

The original Ybor City location is nothing short than magnificent. Additional Columbia locations include St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, the Historic District in St. Augustine, Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, Central Florida’s town of Celebration, Columbia Café on the Riverwalk in Tampa and Columbia Restaurant Café at Tampa International Airport. All Columbia locations are owned and operated by fourth and fifth generation members of the founding family except for the airport, which is operated in partnership with HMSHost.

To this day, over 110 years since it first opened, the Columbia remains in the same family. Richard Gonzmart is the CEO/President and his brother Casey serves as the Chairman of the Board. The fifth generation is also involved; Richard’s daughters, Lauren and Andrea, and Casey’s son, Casey Jr., work in the corporate office. Lauren has four children, twins Michael and Isabella, Maximilian and Alexander, and daughter Andrea has one child, Amelia. Their children represent the sixth generation.

Over the years, Columbia Restaurant has attracted some of the most well-known athletes and entertainers from yesteryear to today.

Richard and Casey Gonzmart have completed several rewarding projects. This included a     5,000 plus square foot $2 million kitchen in the Ybor City restaurant in what was a parking lot/delivery area on the south side of the restaurant.

The old kitchen space was remodeled and turned into two new dining rooms; the Andalucia and the Familia de Casimiro. These were the first new dining rooms built in the restaurant since 1956. The Familia de Casimiro was designed to resemble a Spanish wine cellar, with space for private meetings.

The Andalucia seats up to 80 people, and the Familia de Casimiro up to 30. These two new dining rooms made for an additional 110 seats and brought the total number of dining rooms to 15, with seating for up to 1,700 people. The restaurant has a grand total of 52,000 square feet, and encompasses an entire city block.

The new kitchen and dining rooms were part of a $6.5 million renovation project that prepared the restaurant for its 100th anniversary in 2005.

Reservations are accepted. There is a children’s menu and valet parking Casual attire is fine, but sleeveless shirts on men are not permitted. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Takeout is available on all lunch and dinner menu items.

Some of the menu favorites include Columbia’s Original “1905” Salad,® Spanish Bean Soup, The Original Cuban Sandwich, a variety of Tapas, Paella, Red Snapper “Alicante,” Pompano en Papillot, Roast Pork “A la Cubana,” Chicken and Yellow Rice “Valenciana,” Filet Mignon “Chacho,” Café con Leche and Flan. A gluten-free menu is available.

Winner of Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence, every year since 2004, for an outstanding collection of Spanish wines (more than 1,056 wines, inventory exceeds 50,000 bottles).

There is always entertainment at the Ybor City location, with Flamenco and Spanish classical dance performances nightly ($6 per person cover charge).  There are no shows on Sunday, a live jazz band Tuesday through Saturday nights, live music every Friday and Saturday night in the Tapas Bar and at the Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center on the Tampa Riverwalk, live music every Friday and Saturday night.

When we arrived for dinner we took advantage of the valet parking and got in line to see the hostess. We were escorted to our table and handed a menu which necessitated a lot of study on our part. It had been 23 years since my last visit to this restaurant and it remains a fabulous dining experience.

After some white sangria was brought to the table, the three of us agreed to share some items from the menu starting with the Tapas (pronounced TAH-pahs) section. These are popular throughout Spain in bars and restaurants.  Tapas usually accompany a glass of sherry or other aperitifs. Simply put, they are appetizers. Together they can form an entire meal, ranging from simple items such as olives or croquettes to more elaborate preparations such as mussels in a spicy sauce.   We opted for the tapeo sampler, which allowed us to make three choices. Ours were: Empanadas de Picadillo (spiced ground beef, garlic, tomato, onions, raisins and olives, wrapped in two pastry turnovers);   Croquetas de Langosta (two large croquettes made with Maine lobster meat, blended into a delicate roux, breaded with Cuban bread crumbs, served with a lobster sauce); and Scallops “Casimiro” (Colossal fresh scallops baked in a clay casserole with lemon butter and topped with seasoned bread crumbs and white wine). It arrived on a tower of three plates.

We moved on to share two main courses.  The Ropa Vieja was originally introduced to Cuba by Spanish sailors.  The name means “old clothes” because the choice beef is shredded, sautéed and simmered with onions, green peppers and tomatoes.   Served with platanos and white rice we thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The same goes for the baked stuffed grouper. This featured a boneless fillet of red grouper stuffed with crabmeat and a tropical passion fruit butter sauce. Gently baked, it was served with yellow rice and fresh vegetables.

When it came time to have dessert, we had just enough room to share the Churros “Tres Amigos” Golden brown Spanish pastry, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with three sauces of rich warm chocolate, caramel and guava.  It was a terrific meal and let me add that this represents a very affordable choice for families.

The entrance to the restaurant and to the different rooms are handicapped accessible.

RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE: Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations can be found across the United States and elsewhere around the world. While in Tampa, we dined at the 350- seat 1700 North Westshore Blvd. location in what would mark my long awaited first review of this very famous restaurant chain.

More than 50 years ago, the “First Lady of Steak,” Ruth Fertel, bought a local steak house in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was called Chris Steak House. She had never planned to expand, but after a fierce kitchen fire decimated the property she was forced to relocate in order to stay in business. Within 10 days she had the restaurant up and running. But the Chris Steak House name was not allowed to move with it. With little time and a mischievous smile, Ruth added her own name to the sign, making it “Ruth’s Chris Steak House.” Later Ruth admitted the name was strange, but she managed to work around it.

In 1965, Fertel was a single mom trying to earn enough to send her two sons to college.   She worked every job at the restaurant: from butchering and broiling steak, to waiting tables, keeping the books and washing the dishes. Fertel’s hard work paid off, and her restaurant soon became the most popular steak house in New Orleans.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House began with a team of working mothers, hired by Fertel for their hardworking attitudes and dedication to doing things right. Having established a “this is how it’s done” tradition – passion, hard work and business savvy – Ruth’s Chris Steak House began to grow.  In the years that followed, Ruth’s Chris Steak House brought its signature sizzle to more than 150 company and franchised owned locations in the U.S and  internationally. It sure has stood the test of time; more than 120 employees have been with the company nearly 20 years or more.

Ruth passed away in 2002, but her legacy of community, philanthropy, and commitment to serving only the best lives on.   What started as one restaurant has grown into the largest collection of upscale steak houses in the world. Now guests routinely savor the sizzle of USDA prime steak and genuine hospitality across the globe.

“Ruth had a recipe for everything from preparing the best steak of your life to simply living right,” said Mike O’Donnell, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ruth’s Hospitality Group, Inc. “She knew the value of hard work and the true meaning of hospitality.”

Jim Martin, the general manager of the Tampa location, gave us a warm greeting and proudly told some stories about his nearly 30 years with the company. He also shared a few personal anecdotes of his memories of Ruth Fertel, whom he had the pleasure of interacting with on many occasions.

At Ruth’s Chris, your last bite is just as good as your first. Their perfected broiling method and seasoning techniques ensure each cut of USDA Prime beef they serve arrives cooked to perfection and sizzling on a 500 degree plate. The menu includes seafood, appetizers, sides and desserts.

At Ruth’s Chris, there’s more to their bar than world-class wines. They specialize in handcrafted cocktails, from vintage classics to their very own house specialties. All made with fresh-squeezed juices, premium spirits and the perfect finishing touches, I started the evening off with a sweet and tasty cosmopolitan.

For dinner let us recommend the Porterhouse steak for two – 40 ounces of prime beef with the rich flavor of a strip and the tenderness of a filet. This was more than enough for our party of three, with some roasted cremini mushrooms and fingerling potatoes on the side. While we each had our eyes on one of the many excellent soups and salads as a pre-meal selection, instead we agreed to share a small (but it is actually quite large) chilled seafood tower – Maine lobster, king crab legs and knuckles, colossal lump crab meat and jumbo cocktail shrimp served with both Sriracha-lime seafood   and cocktail sauces.

When it came to dessert, our waiter Wayne suggested we go with the crème brulee and we did so with a few spoons. Wayne was right on the mark.

Ruth’s Chris does offer a gluten-free menu. The items available are either gluten-free as prepared, or are modified to be gluten-free. If you have an allergy or dietary concern, contact the restaurant before your reservation time or ask to speak with a manager or chef upon arrival. They do offer vegetarian options.

To learn more about the legend of Ruth Fertel and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, visit RuthsChris.com.

OYSTERCATCHERS: When on holiday we always try to find the best seafood restaurant in town. In Tampa, that would be Oystercatchers (www.oystercatchersrestaurant.com) at the Grand Hyatt at 2900 Bayport Drive.  To get there you drive down a winding road approaching the illuminated circle drive, flanked by palm trees and bright flowerbeds. There is valet parking.

Photo: redsquarephoto.com

As you enter the restaurant through the lounge, you are taken back by the spectacular panoramic view of Old Tampa Bay. With its innovative cocktails and contemporary furniture, the lounge, outside patio and lower bay-level deck provide a comfortable yet chic hotspot for locals and visitors alike. The visually stimulating water views and sunsets provide a unique environment to enjoy feature wines and appetizers. As for the menu, it highlights an array of the freshest, wild and line caught fish available, organic produce and seafood specialties with a unique and contemporary flair.

We indulged in the flavorful creations of Chef de Cuisine Shane Clarke, who artfully blends the freshest catch with innovative touches, as only one born to the water can do.

Our server, Donald, has been part of the Oystercatchers staff for well over 20 years and he guided us excellently. General Manager Justin Beach and Chef Clarke actually greeted us at the start of the evening with a special sampling of their scallops. They were so delicious we knew we had to include this as part of our main course.

For our party of three we chose to share a number of dishes and that started with the appetizers: eight splendid oysters, an order of golden calamari fries, an arugula salad and yellowfin tuna (red in color, served medium rare from Florida’s East coast).   This was a great combination!

Photo: redsquarephoto.com

When it came to the main course, we opted to share a two pound lobster. It came to the table completely cut up and easy to dip into the garlic butter. We also added an order of large juicy sea scallops from the Mexican Gulf, perfectly prepared and among the best I have tasted in many years.

For dessert we shared the house specialty, a slice of key lime pie and a piece of sumptuous chocolate cake.

Unquestionably this is the place you should go for seafood in Tampa Bay! It is open for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:30 pm to 10 pm and Sunday from 6 pm to 9 pm. A popular brunch is served from 10:30 am to 2 pm Sundays. And you can drop by for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. For more information call (813)

BIZOU BRASSERIE: I had breakfast one morning in one of downtown Tampa’s most iconic and historic buildings, the city’s former federal courthouse. Bizou Brasserie (www.bizoutampa.com) may look formal on the outside, but inside you’ll find a downtown Tampa restaurant to remember in a casual, fun environment. Located within Le Méridien Tampa at 601 N. Florida Avenue, Bizou (meaning “kiss” in French) is just the place to kick off a great evening at a restaurant in downtown Tampa or wind down after a night on the town. Here you’ll find a comfortable, relaxed setting for all kinds of occasions including before or after a special evening downtown visiting the museum, Tampa Theatre or a performance at the Straz Center. The breakfast was pretty good, some corned beef hash with potatoes, poached eggs and a choice of toast.

BERN’S FOR DESSERT: We had dined at the famous Bern’s Steak House (www.bernsteakhouse.com) in Tampa a year earlier.  It was great to learn about the history.  Founder Bern Laxer was born to a Romanian mother and Polish father on the Lower East Side of New York in 1923, and grew up in the Bronx.  After serving in World War II, he returned to New York where he pursued a degree in advertising from New York University.  He met his wife Gert in a copywriting class and they married in 1950. They ought a small luncheonette in 1953 which would grow into Bern’s.

We decided to go to Bern’s after our own dinner one night and back inside the world famous Harry Waugh Dessert Room. Built in 1985 using redwood wine casks to create 48 private rooms, guests get to enjoy nearly 50 desserts, wines, ports, sherries, and madeiras. This represents a separate sitting. All desserts – ice creams, sherbets, pies, pastries, hot fudge, whipped cream, breads and crackers – are made by Bern’s with the freshest and best ingredients available.  Make sure you have a reservation or prepare to wait a long time for a table.

In the end one member of our party opted for a specialty drink, a Butterscotch Bern’s (vanilla ice cream with butterscotch liqueur and other special liqueurs) as well as two outstanding desserts:  the s’mores cheesecake (chocolate cheesecake, graham cracker crust and toasted vanilla marshmallow crème) and a piece of Granny Smith Apple Pie (caramelized apple filling wrapped in a sweet buttery dough and served with a caramel sauce and cinnamon ice cream).

If you are in the area of 1208 S. Howard Street then make a reservation by calling 813-251-2421. You can valet park for $5.Bern’s is fully wheelchair accessible. There are elevators which bring you to each level of the restaurant.

 

 

New York Broadway Update

By Alexandra Cohen

NEW YORK BROADWAY UPDATE:  There are many reasons to travel to New York City, with Broadway musicals heading the list.  Let us recommend two shows, Groundhog Day and Come From Away,

Groundhog Day, the Olivier Award-winning new musical based on the iconic film by the same name, continues to delight crowds at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City. Groundhog Day was re-imagined by the award-winning creators of the international hit Matilda The Musical—including director Matthew Warchus and songwriter Tim Minchin—with a book by original screenwriter Danny Rubin.

Phil Connors, played by three-time Tony nominee Andy Karl, is an arrogant big-city weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over again in a small town that he loathes. It seems that he can do whatever he pleases with no consequences, but as he gets to know associate TV producer Rita Hanson (played by Barrett Doss), he falls for her as she teaches him to live each day to the fullest.

Before opening on Broadway, the show opened on the West End to critical acclaim, picking up Olivier awards for Best Musical and Best Lead Actor (Karl), amongst others. Andy Karl, to put it simply, is absolutely brilliant in this production. He sells the show from beginning to end, preventing the repetitive nature of the show from becoming boring for even a second with his fresh acting choices.

Karl made the news by tearing his ACL on stage when the show was still in previews. Exemplifying the expression “the show must go on”, despite having to crawl offstage in tears, he returned just over ten minutes later to sing the final number. Karl officially returned to the show only 72 hours later with a brace on his leg, just in time for opening night, earning glowing reviews and eventually a Drama Desk Award and Tony nomination.

In addition to Karl, his romantic opposite, Barrett Doss, also impresses. Doss made her Broadway debut in 2014 as an understudy but has shown that she belongs firmly in the spotlight with her strong voice and magnetic stage presence.

Groundhog Day, the perfect mixture of uproariously funny and incredibly moving, is sure to see audience members leaving with smiles on their faces. One of such audience members recently was none other than Bill Murray, who played Phil Connors in the film. “It’s really something. It’s very powerful”, he said. Murray reportedly was seen sobbing in the audience by the end of the show, and in fact, loved it so much that he returned again the next night for a repeat viewing.

Hurry up and try to catch this wonderful production before it closes on September 17, 2017. If not, you can still catch it on the road, as an 18-month national tour is planned for next year.

COME FROM AWAY: Come From Away, which was nominated for seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, features an outstanding ensemble of actors who work together to tell this deeply moving story. Each performer plays multiple roles, and they transition seamlessly from Newfoundlanders to the people on the planes under the expert direction of Tony Award-winner Christopher Ashley.

Come From Away (www.comefromaway.com), the new Broadway musical by Canadian husband and wife duo Irene Sankoff and David Hein, tells the often-forgotten story of the 38 planes that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. While the tragedy of 9/11 does not sound like the most uplifting premise for a musical, the show’s creators refer to it instead as a story about 9/12 and the days that followed. Come From Away, to put it simply, is a 100-minute musical celebrating human empathy and kindness.

The small town of Gander nearly doubled its population, turning itself upside down to accommodate the visitors, many of whom spoke different languages and came from different cultural backgrounds.

Of particular note in the cast is Tony-nominee Jenn Colella, who amongst other roles, plays Captain Beverly Bass. Bass was, as sung by Colella, “the first female American captain in history”, and her plane flying from Paris to Dallas was one of the 38 diverted to Gander. She has been to see Come From Away a whopping 61 times thus far. “I never get tired of it,” Bass told the New York Times, also adding “I can’t believe I’ve seen it that many times – but I’m ready to go back”.

Leaving the theatre following the show, I couldn’t help but feel exceptionally proud to be Canadian. Come From Away is laced with inside jokes meant just for us, like references to Tim Hortons and Molson beer, along with stereotypical jokes like a moose standing in the middle of the road and the communal disappointment felt when hockey is cancelled.

While history largely forgot about the incredible people of Gander, that cannot be said anymore. In June, it was announced that for their hospitality and kindness, the town of Gander will be honored as the first municipality to win an international humanitarian award from the Values-In-Action Foundation.

Run, don’t walk, to see this incredible Broadway production. Come From Away will also launch a North American tour across the United States and Canada at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in October 2018, and a third production has been announced to play Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre beginning on Tuesday, February 13, 2018.

MOMA : When in New York City, we strongly recommend a visit to the fabulous Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), dedicated to being the foremost museum of modern art in the world.

Central to  MoMA’s mission is the encouragement of an ever-deeper understanding and enjoyment of modern and contemporary art by the diverse local, national, and international audiences that it serves. It opened in 1929 in the Heckscher Building located at 730 Fifth Avenue.  Over the course of the next 10 years, the Museum moved three times into progressively larger temporary quarters, and in 1939 finally opened the doors of the building it still occupies in midtown Manhattan. Subsequent expansions took place during the 1950s and 1960s planned by the architect Philip Johnson, who also designed The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden. In 1984, a major renovation designed by Cesar Pelli doubled the Museum’s gallery space and enhanced visitor facilities.

In 2001, the Museum began a major renovation and expansion of its midtown location designed by Yoshio Taniguchi. MoMA closed its doors in midtown in May 2002 and opened in its temporary quarters MoMA QNS in Long Island City, Queens, in June 2002. Design by Michael Maltzan and Cooper, Robertson & Partners, MoMA QNS functioned as the Museum’s temporary exhibition space until September 2004.

MoMA reopened its midtown location on November 20, 2004, to coincide with the Museum’s 75th anniversary. The 630,000-square-foot Museum is nearly twice the size of the former facility, offering dramatically expanded and redesigned spaces for exhibitions, public programming, educational outreach, and scholarly research. The Museum now features 125,000 square feet in gallery space. Kohn Pederson Fox served as executive architect on the project. The total cost of construction was $425 million.

Completed in November 2006, The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building marked the culmination of the Taniguchi project, providing significantly increased space for MoMA’s wide-ranging educational and research activities.

The six-storey    David and Peggy Rockefeller Building Gallery Building houses galleries for the collection and temporary exhibitions. Architecturally distinctive galleries designed specifically for the type and scale of works displayed provide an ideal showcase for MoMA’s unparalleled collection of modern and contemporary art. Spacious galleries for contemporary art are located on the second floor, demonstrating the Museum’s commitment to the art of our time. There are galleries for Media (second floor), Prints and Illustrated Books (second floor,) Architecture and Design (third floor), Drawings (third floor), and Painting and Sculpture (fourth and fifth floors).  Expansive, sky lit galleries for temporary exhibitions are located on the sixth floor, and additional galleries for temporary exhibitions are also located on the second and third floors. The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, which soars 110 feet above street level, also functions as a gallery for various departments

One of the stars of the museum’s collection is Vincent Van Gogh’s – The Starry Night.  It depicts a turbulent sky over Saint Remy, where Van Gogh was confined to a mental asylum during his final days. The roiling energy of the sky, intense color and exploding stars are thought to evoke Van Gogh’s emotional state. He once said, “Looking at the stars always make me dream.”

Make sure to check out the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, restored to Philip Johnson’s original 1953 design by Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004. Taniguchi enlarged the garden to 21,400 square feet and re-established the southern terrace, which is now an elegant outdoor patio for The Modern Restaurant. Yearly exhibitions are presented in the garden, and it has been the home of Summergarden since 1971. Views of the Garden are available from numerous vantage points throughout the Museum.

Across the Sculpture Garden and opposite The David and Peggy Rockefeller Building is MoMA’s eight-story Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, a 63,000 square foot space for educational and research activities, as well as offices. The Library and Archives occupy the top floors of the building and include a light-filled reading room and outdoor terrace. The building also features an entrance for school groups, a 125-seat auditorium, and an orientation center, workshop space for teacher training programs, classrooms, study centers, and a large lobby with double-height views into the Sculpture Garden. Exhibitions drawn from the Museum’s Library and Archives are displayed for the public throughout the year on the mezzanine level of the building.

MoMA is open seven days a week at 11 West 53 Street. For more details and to find out about present and upcoming exhibitions log on to www.moma.org.

WHERE TO STAY:  Is there really any better place to stay in New York City  than the historic Algonquin Hotel (www.algonquinhotel.com). On our most recent trip,   we were fortunate enough to secure reservations again.  Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, this jewel of historic New York hotels commands the center of 44th Street, just a block and a half away from Times Square. The Algonquin first opened its doors in 1902. Today it is part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection, an evolving ensemble of strikingly independent hotels. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character and uncommon details. From near to far, iconic to historic, the result is an array of properties that is nothing less than unique. The Algonquin Hotel was the first New York City property to become a part of the collection.

For 100 years, the Algonquin has been greeting and lodging the country’s most prominent writers and literary personalities, as well as the leading figures of the American stage. The hotel is best known, perhaps, for the members of the Round Table, a group of luminaries who had in common both the ability to fire blazing witticisms and to withstand being on the receiving end of them. The tone they set during their daily meetings set the literary style of the 1920s. After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. “By force of character,” observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, “they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre.”

Each of the 181 rooms and 25 suites features a comfortable well-lit work desk, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi.  Always one step ahead of everyone else, the hotel was the first to offer accommodations to actors and single women travellers.   You can download the special Folio app, which will provide access to a wide variety of ebooks you can read as long as you remain on the premises.

Delighting thirsty revelers when it opened at the demise of the Prohibition in 1933, The Blue Bar has moved – both physically and eruditely – through decades of Times Square hotel bar trends.  There is also The Round Table Restaurant and the casual Lobby Lounge.

As a cat lover we are always excite to see the house cat, Hamlet. For many years the history of The Algonquin Cat was believed to have its origins in the 1930’s, when a stray cat came wandering into the hotel for food and water.

San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – Let me begin by saying how welcoming the city of San Francisco is to tourists. I cannot remember a time when a tourism bureau was so helpful.

San Francisco is often called “Everybody’s Favorite City,” a title earned by its scenic beauty, cultural attractions, diverse communities, and world-class cuisine. Measuring 49 square miles, this very walk-able city is dotted with landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, Alcatraz and the largest Chinatown in the United States. A stroll of the city’s streets can lead from Union Square to North Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf, with intriguing neighborhoods to explore at every turn. Views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay are often laced with fog, creating a romantic mood in this most European of American cities.

The San Francisco Travel Association (www.sftravel.com) is a private, not-for-profit organization that markets the city as a leisure, convention and business travel destination.  With more than 1,300 partner businesses, San Francisco Travel is one of the largest membership-based tourism promotion agencies in the country. Tourism, San Francisco’s largest industry, generated record-breaking numbers in 2016.  More than 25.1 million people visited the destination, spending in excess of $9.69 billion.

We were there for a week and built our itinerary carefully.

It is  easy to spend weeks in San Francisco and still not experience everything the city has to offer. The Golden Gate Bridge, the most famous bridge in the world, manages to impress even the most experienced travellers with its stunning 1.7-mile span. Approximately 120,000 automobiles drive across it every day. A pedestrian walkway also allows the crossing on foot, and bikes are allowed on the western side. The Golden Gate Bridge is said to be one of the most photographed things on Earth. Cable cars have been transporting people around San Francisco since the late 19th century. The cars run on tracks and are moved by an underground cable on three routes. Their familiar bells can be heard ringing from blocks away. Tickets ($7) may be purchased at the cable car turnarounds at the ends of each route. Each one-way ride will provide spectacular views of the city’s celebrated hills, as well as exhilarating transportation.

Alcatraz, the notorious former prison, is located on an island of the same name in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to Pier 39, a festive waterfront marketplace that is one of the city’s most popular attractions. A community of California sea lions has taken up residence on the floats in the Pier 39 Marina and visitors line the nearby railing to watch their antics. From there it’s a short walk to the San Francisco Dungeon and Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the famous crab vendors selling walk-away crab and shrimp cocktails. Union Square is the place for serious shoppers. Major department stores and the most exclusive designer boutiques line streets like Post, Sutter, Geary, Grant, Stockton and Powell. The Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre houses the largest Bloomingdale’s outside of New York and the second largest Nordstrom in the U.S.

The entrance to Chinatown at Grant Avenue and Bush Street is called the “Dragon’s Gate.” Inside are 24 blocks of hustle and bustle, most of it taking place along Grant Avenue, the oldest street in San Francisco. This city within a city is best explored on foot; exotic shops, renowned restaurants, food markets, temples and small museums comprise its boundaries. Visitors can buy ancient potions from herb shops, relax and enjoy a “dim sum” lunch or witness the making of fortune cookies.

San Francisco is home to internationally recognized symphony, opera and ballet companies, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , the Asian Art Museum, the de Young Museum, the Legion of Honor and the California Academy of Sciences – the only place on the planet with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a four-story rainforest all under one roof.

Do consider purchasing the San Francisco CityPASS, which saves travellers up to 42 percent off combined admission to top attractions. It includes a Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport, good for three consecutive days of unlimited rides on all Muni buses, light rail trains, streetcars, and the city’s celebrated cable cars. While other visitors are paying $7 for each one-way cable car ride, CityPASS holders can hop on and off as many times as they like. Also included is pre-paid admission to the city by the Bay’s top attractions: California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, the Aquarium of the Bay on San Francisco’s lively Embarcadero waterfront, and a choice between the Exploratorium and the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor. Travellers with kids will definitely want to check out the Exploratorium’s stunning new home at Pier 15. The museum’s 330,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor space features some 600 exhibits, 25 percent of which are new installations designed to engage, delight and inform.  Each 2017 San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet costs $89 for adults, $66 for kids, ages five to 11. Passes, which can be purchased online at CityPASS.com/san-francisco  or at any of the CityPASS partner attractions listed above, are valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use.

Since 1997, CityPASS ticket booklets and admission cards have been premier products for travelers who want to visit a destination’s top attractions while enjoying significant savings. CityPASS booklets/cards are available for New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto. Visit CityPASS.com.

 

WHERE TO STAY – THE HILTON UNION SQUARE: We were excited to get accommodations  at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square (www.sanfrancisco.hilton.com)

located in the theatre district and within  walking distance to cable cars,  the Moscone Center and about one mile from night clubs, Chinatown and Nob Hill.  Macy’s and the upscale Westfield San Francisco Center are only a few blocks away.

This historic three-tower hotel provides rooms with city views, the Cityscape lounge on the 46th floor and a ballroom that occupies an entire floor. You can relax on their16th floor pool deck. It’s only 14 miles from the San Francisco International Airport. There are more than 1,900 rooms here, making it the largest hotel on the West Coast.

We stayed in one of the hotel’s newly renovated Tower Two Luxury suites, which has a main bedroom with two Queen sized beds and a small sofa. This connects to a much larger room –called a parlor – which features a Murphy bed, two sofas, a round dining room table that can seat six and windows on all sides. Combined you have two bathrooms, two fridges, two in-room safes, more cupboard space, which adds up to ultra-comfort.  There is also a tablet in each room, which provides you with all of the necessary hotel and city information. For a nominal charge you can surf the net with it as well.

The hotel even has a Suites Director, a fine gentleman named George Ferris. At the front desk there are plenty of staff to take care of you and I very much appreciated the able assistance provided by the concierge team.

Classic guest rooms offer HDTV and Wi-Fi access while ultra-modern rooms showcase city skyline or bay views. Accessible rooms are also available.  There’s plenty of choice for dining here. Head to Herb ‘N Kitchen where you can eat your way – sit down, grab and go, or order to your room. Urban Tavern is the place for sit down dining and a fantastic buffet breakfast under the name of “Poached.” The Lobby Bar is the perfect setting to unwind after a busy day.

Whether conducting business, keeping up with a fitness routine or looking to spend quality time with your family, this Hilton hotel provides the amenities you expect and the extras you deserve. A Business Centre is located in the lobby level of Building Two. It includes computer work stations, conference room rentals, rentals for audio/visual equipment and conference rooms, a fax machine, and data phones with web access, Express mail and even secretarial services. For your fitness and recreational convenience, enjoy the fully equipped 2,800 sq. ft. health club with high calibre equipment.

There are accessible guest rooms with mobility features, entry or passage doors that provide 32 inches as well as special provisions for parking, entry ways, swimming, braille on the elevators, closed captioning on televisions or closed captioning decoders, TDD devices, a digital alarm clock available with sound and a vibrating pad, grab bars in bathroom, shower baths or roll in showers, an inflatable chair available to assist in getting in and out of a bath and a  level or ramp entrance into the building.

 

EMBASSY SUITES AIRPORT: Here is a tip when arriving in San Francisco in the middle of the evening. Why head to your main hotel right away? We checked into the modern Embassy Suites by Hilton San Francisco Airport hotel. Here you can enjoy spacious accommodations in this all-suite hotel, where a separate living area and bedroom are standard features. The flexible rooms have tiered Wi-Fi available and convenient, delicious dining options at your fingertips. Their daily cooked-to-order breakfast and evening receptions with drinks are included in all reservations. They offer a complimentary shuttle bus service to and from the airport, a free daily trolley to and from the city of Burlingame (11:30 am to 9 pm) and a complimentary motor coach to downtown San Francisco on Fridays and Saturdays.  The hotel is located 10 miles south of downtown.  You can take a refreshing swim in their indoor on-site swimming pool, or check out the fitness center. The tropical atrium, perfect for relaxing after work or a day out, features a beautiful koi fish pond and water fountain. The on-site restaurant is called Two Fifty and there is also a Starbucks on site. I really felt at home here and enjoyed the ambience of the gigantic lobby where I connected to free Wi-Fi and got a lot of work done squeezed between some Netflix binge watching.

The hotel is fully accessible, with a wide front entrance, wide hallways, several elevators, walkways above the tropical atrium.  There is easy access to the pool as well. Service animals are permitted. It is located at 250 Gateway Boulevard. For more information call 650-589-3400 or log on to www.sanfranciscoairportsouthsanfran.embassysuites.com.

 

HOP-ON, HOP-OFF BUS:   For our first full day in San Francisco it was a no brainer to take the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus tour.  You can buy your tickets in multiple ways. Log on to www.bigbustours.com and click on the San Francisco section as this company operates across the globe. We previously experienced it in London and Paris. Download the free App before you go.  In a city like San Francisco, with stunning bays, bridges and hills, this bus tour is the perfect way to sightsee. Hop-on, hop-off, and revel in the flexibility as you explore the treasures of Golden Gate Bridge to Fisherman’s Wharf, Haight Ashbury to Chinatown.  You will be offered ear buds when you board and a guide will announce all of the sites you pass by. Just keep your tickets as these will get your re-entry. You can sit in an enclosed space downstairs or climb the stairs to the open air second level if there is room. The buses are supposed to arrive at different spots every 20 minutes. That does not always occur, so we called on Uber a couple of times to keep us on the move. Overall, though, we were very pleased and hit all of the major landmarks. There are a variety of different packages available, so pick the one that best suits your needs. As for handicapped accessibility, Big Bus tours does operate wheelchair accessible vehicles with lifts that can accommodate a weight up to 650 pounds. The entire fleet in San Francisco is not wheelchair accessible. If you or your travelling partner(s) requires an ADA accessible vehicle,   contact the company 48 hours prior to your planned tour commencement. They can then arrange for a suitable vehicle to be available at the time and location required. Passengers with mobility impairments may not be able to access the upper deck.

 

MUIR WOODS AND SAUSALITO:  Alan Rosenzweig moved to San Francisco 30 years ago from Brooklyn to go to university and never left.  “When I arrived here, I spent just about every weekend exploring different places on foot, by bike or in my car,” he recalls. “One of my first trips was to Muir Woods National Monument and the grove of coastal Sequoias (Redwoods) — the tallest trees in the world! Thirty years later, I am taking people to visit this spectacular Redwood Grove as well as to many other places I love and appreciate.”

Via his Best Bay Tours (https://bestbayareatours.com), Rosenzweig found a second career and started thinking about what he loves to do: to travel, explore and engage people.   “I have travelled throughout the United States, as well as to many parts of the world,” he says. “I have spent time in Central America, Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. For three months I lived in Borneo volunteering at an Orangutan rehabilitation center and wildlife refuge. I’ve visited most of the National Parks in the USA. I’ve also volunteered as a tour guide at Ano Nuevo State Park near San Francisco, which is home to a large population of elephant seals. So it seemed like a natural move for me to create Best Bay Area Tours and become a tour guide. I absolutely love doing what I do. I get to show people from all over the world many of the wonderful sights, smells and tastes of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it could possibly be. I look forward to seeing you on one of my tours.”

We had a great time on this tour. A comfortable van picked us up in front of our hotel and what an incredible chauffeur/tour guide we had in charismatic Paul Berman. A native of Scotland, he moved here 27 years ago with his wife and never left.  The Muir Woods tour took us across the Golden Gate Bridge, past the Marin Headlands, and into a magical Redwood forest known as Muir Woods. This is one of the most amazing and beautiful sights in the world. The Coastal Sequoias (Redwoods) in Muir Woods are the tallest trees in the world,   found only along the Northern California coast, and after decades of logging only five percent of these old growth trees remain. On our drive to Muir Woods Paul explained how this grove of Redwoods was spared from the clear-cutting that went on during the gold rush and then again during the rebuilding and reconstruction of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Once in the grove of Redwoods, we had a special opportunity to walk amongst these beautiful and awe inspiring Sequoia trees by following the creek bed. We spent about 90 minutes in the Redwood grove. The tour the moved on to picturesque Sausalito,  California,  where had a chance to shop, visit art galleries and have lunch all while gazing across the bay at beautiful San Francisco. You have the option of returning with the tour back to San Francisco with a stop in the Marin Headlands, which provides stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco beyond. Or you can stay in Sausalito and spend as much time as you’d like and then make your own way back via the ferry. Tour prices are $45 for children and $60 for adults. This does not include the $10 entrance fee to the Muir Woods National Park.

 

ESCAPE TO ALCATRAZ: I have always been fascinated by Alcatraz, once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals. The federal penitentiary that operated here from 1934 to 1963 brought a dark mystique to the Rock as the presence of infamous inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone, and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud helped to establish the island’s notoriety. To this day, Alcatraz is best known as one of the world’s most legendary prisons. A visit to Alcatraz is high on every San Francisco tourist’s list.  We booked our tickets via Alcatraz Cruises (www.alcatrazcruises.com), the National Park Service concessioner of ferry service to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Cruises hosts nearly 1.5 million visitors annually. Plan about two and a half hours for your visit. You can stay as long as you like, taking the cell house audio tour, exploring the rest of the island and its historic exhibits, and returning to the mainland. The National Park Service volunteers and guides offer guided programs throughout the day, frequently taking visitors into seldom-seen areas of the island. The compelling Cell house Audio Tour “Doing Time” through the cell house featuring the actual voices of former guards and inmates is currently available in multiple-languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish Dutch, Mandarin, Portuguese and Korean. An orientation video with historical footage of the island is shown every half hour. In addition, museum displays and several bookstores are available. From late September until February 1, when bird nesting season begins, you can explore the island’s historic parade ground and hike down the Agave Trail to the water’s edge.

Portions of the cell house West Wall are temporarily shrouded while they repair and restore this important historic structure. With the exception of the hospital wing, all areas traditionally open at this time of year remain so. There are limited areas on Alcatraz that are always closed, due to their fragile, potentially harmful, condition. Restoration of the cell house will be complete in early 2018.

Many people are unaware of the wealth of other stories to be learned on the island. Alcatraz is now home to rare flowers and plants, marine wildlife, and thousands of roosting and nesting sea birds. Civil War-era buildings dotting the island give insight into the 19th century when the island served as both a harbor defense fort and a military prison. You can also see visible reminders of the American Indian Occupation that started in 1969 after the prison closed, highlighting an important milestone in the American Indian rights movement.

As for Alcatraz Cruises, we were transported to the island on the nation’s first hybrid ferry, an eco-friendly vessel powered largely by solar panels, wind turbines, and grid electricity. Carpet, countertops, and fixtures incorporate recycled and sustainable materials. It was a fascinating experience. Here is a tip. Order your tickets as far in advance as possible.

 

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCE:  The California Academy of Sciences  (http://www.calacademy.org) is home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and research and education programs, which engage people of all ages and backgrounds on two of the most important topics of our time: life and its sustainability. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it’s remarkable what is housed all under one living roof.

The Steinhart Aquarium is one of the most advanced and biologically diverse aquariums in the world, home to the world’s deepest indoor living coral reef, an albino alligator, a colony of African penguins, a shark lagoon and more than 38,000 live animals representing over 900 species. Through partnerships with Academy scientists, who travel the world in search of new and little-known species, Steinhart’s biologists often display animals you won’t find in any other public aquarium.

The Morrison Planetarium is home to one of the largest and most advanced all-digital domes in the world. The Academy’s Visualization Studio produces award-winning original planetarium shows that tell stories about faraway galaxies—and our home planet Earth—using scientific data to depict the most current discoveries.

The Kimball Natural History Museum explores some of the most significant discoveries and issues of our time. Explore majestic dioramas of African landscapes and animals and immerse yourself in exhibits that examine the evolution—and future—of life on Earth. And don’t miss our earthquake simulator, the Shake House, while learning about the natural forces that have shaped the Bay Area.

The Osher Rainforest allows visitors to explore a lush, four-story rainforest, housed in a 90-foot glass dome and teeming with life from some of the most biodiverse places on Earth—from an ant colony and free-flying birds and butterflies to enormous Amazonian fish.

Along with dozens of daily programs on the museum floor, there are plenty of ways to see and learn more during your visit and after hours. You can book a behind-the-scenes tour

and get a closer look at the live animals, discover scientific collections, or learn what makes this museum the greenest in the world. On Thursday nights, adults 21 and over can enjoy live music, cocktails, and special activities and entertainment in addition to exploring the entire Academy after dark. The Academy also partners with scientists from institutions around the world to host lectures on a wide range of topics. Astronomy buffs can learn more about discoveries within the final frontier at our Benjamin Dean Astronomy Lecture series.

Admission is: $34.95 for adults; $29.95 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65 plus, and students with valid ID; $24.95 for children ages four to 11; and free for children ages three and younger. Admission fees include all exhibits and shows. Hours are 9:30 am to 5 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11 am to 5 pm on Sunday. During peak periods, including some holiday weekends, extended hours may apply. Visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more.

 

CULINARY TIPS: Dining in San Francisco is an attraction in itself. Known as one of America’s best restaurant cities, San Francisco chefs excel at combining the freshest local ingredients, authentic international flavors and a touch of creative genius. Choose your cuisine – Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Indian, Malaysian, Mexican, Greek, Russian or “fusion,” a combination of any or all of these influences.

 

DINNER AT FARALLON AND SHOW:  We came upon the ideal dinner and show combination right next to each other- a fabulous meal at Farallon Restaurant (www.farallonrestaurant.com), followed by an evening at the San Francisco Playhouse and a presentation of the La Cage Aux Folles.  In fact, the dinner and a show promotion that Farallon has with the Playhouse is a $49 three-course prix fixe dinner the details of which are listed here: http://www.farallonrestaurant.com/promotions-farallon/.

Farallon, founded by famed restaurateur and designer Pat Kuleto and Chef Mark Franz, has been enchanting guests for 18 years. With carefully crafted details that capture the life aquatic, Farallon has been vastly lauded as a top dining establishment offering coastal cuisine from Chefs Franz and Jason Ryczek, highlighting the freshest seafood available. Since opening in 1997, Farallon has been named a top restaurant by Bon Appetít, Esquire, and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as receiving a nomination as a James Beard “Best New Restaurant” and “San Francisco’s Best Newcomer” from Food & Wine magazine’s readers’ poll.

Farallon offers a sophisticated menu featuring “coastal cuisine” created by Franz and Ryczek. The freshest seafood available comprises the majority of the menu, rounded out with local produce, meat, and game. The Oyster Bar menu features a daily selection of 10 different types of oysters from around the world, all on the half shell. Tartars, caviar, and house-cured gravlax are also available. Iced shellfish platters feature an assortment of raw and chilled shellfish.  The dining room menu features appetizers to pique the palate, such as Ahi Tuna Panzanella with pistachio pesto, Calabrian chilis, and sea beans; Baby Beet & Dungeness Crab Salad with grapefruit, hazelnuts, mint, and black truffles; Sea Urchin & Bone Marrow with grilled levain and garlic scape persillade; and Oysters & Gnocchi with paddlefish caviar, celery root, and baby fennel. Dining room appetizers are priced from $11 to $19.

Dinner entrees are priced from $27 to $36 and include dishes such as Seared Tombo Tuna with garbanzo beans and red walnut muhummara; Dry Aged Prime Ribeye Pave with honey glazed baby carrots, farro verde, and fines herbes; and Cast Iron Roasted Striped Bass with baby artichoke barigoule, rouille, and pistou.  Chef Eleana Rosenthal’s innovative desserts include dishes such as Bergamot Angel Food Cake with earl grey ice cream, short dough, and honeycomb; Lavender-Lemongrass Panna Cotta with tapioca, huckleberries, and poppy seed tuile, plus an exquisite selection of imported and domestic cheeses.

As for the décor, Kuleto created a colorful undersea fantasy in a space originally designed for a 1925 Elks Club’s salt water plunge room. The underwater whimsy begins in the 25-seat Jelly Bar with its hand-made “jellyfish” lights suspended two stories overhead, the octopus bar stools, hand-made illuminated kelp pillars and a floor resembling the bottom of the ocean with sandy color and inset marble- tiled fish. The Oyster Bar offers eight sea urchin bar stools, white Carrera marble counters, custom stainless steel oyster display case and large oval mirror. These elements come together to evoke a classic oyster bar feel. The “caviar” staircase leading to the balcony shines with 50,000 iridescent indigo-blue marbles, suggestive of caviar; the ceiling is done in a rich, night-sky blue, overlooking the underwater scene below. Leading into the Pool Room is the Nautilus Area, designed to suggest the inside of a shell, with its winding nautilus-patterned floor, the light fixtures made with real and glass barnacles and the sand-coated ceiling.  The Pool Room features a restored elaborate 1920s-era painted mosaic of mermaids on the three Gothic arches, along with hand-made giant “sea urchin” light fixtures and three commissioned paintings portraying how the San Francisco wharf might have looked at the turn of the century.  Hammered copper and metal fish scales adorn the open kitchen that is lit by hand-blown glass blue squid fixtures. The Wine Hold, 12-seat semi- private dining room off the Pool Room is adjacent to the restaurant’s wine cellar and features a painting suggestive of being in the hold of a ship, surrounded by bottles of wine.

Wine Director Luke Kenning brings an extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for wines to Farallon. The $200,000 cellar maintains over 500 wines from around the world, priced from $35 to $1,500. With a generous selection of half-bottles and wines-by-the-glass, Farallon’s wine program is accessible and enjoyable.  With one of the largest collections of single malt whiskeys in the city (140 in total), Farallon complements its celebrated food with an impressive spirits program from Bar Manager Kevin Boals. The cocktail list of this Union Square haunt is full of simple classics with Boals’ personal touches. Guests of all tastes and price ranges will find something to enjoy at the bar. From unique Tasmanian single malts to rare, closed distillery treasures, the ever-changing bar menu is stocked with exciting bottles that always blow cocktail connoisseurs away. The private dining rooms, located on the fourth floor of the historic Elks Building, are designed in a manner consistent with Farallon’s underwater theme. The Sevruga Room, seating up to 18 guests, is a cozy wine library with a hand-blown glass aquarium and a candle-lit fireplace. The Osetra Room, with 10-foot French windows overlooking bustling Union Square, seats up to 50 diners. Beautiful porthole paintings are the perfect accent to this room. The largest of the three rooms is the Beluga, which seats up to 120. French doors lead you into the grand ballroom of a luxury ocean liner that has sunk to the bottom of the sea. Inside, sea creatures are having a party. All the rooms are serviced from their own kitchen under the direct supervision of Chef Ryczek who uses the freshest ingredients to create seasonal menus that change daily.

We had an absolutely fabulous dinner. Our server Nancy nicely described the options and paired different wine with our appetizers and main courses. We started off with a large selection from the raw bar:  lo b s t e r   c l a w , Dungeness crab, oysters, clams and prawns as well as tasting of Pacific Coast oysters. I also enjoyed a very unique bowl of soup, the Brodo of Homemade Charcuterie, mussels, mushroom , tortellini, summer corn and pesto. For the main course our party of three feasted on the  sablefish, from the Farallon Islands, which came with h i c k o r y ro a s t e d b a b y e g g p l a n t, couscous, figs, almonds and ras el hanout (a yogurt-like topping). The bone dry scallops, with m u s h r o o m s,  cherry tomatoes, flageolet beans and arugula pistou got a big thumbs up. So did the flannery filet of beef,   with braised scallions, fingerling potatoes and crisp summer peppers. For dessert we opted for the mocha mousse chocolate cookie crumble and lavender Chantilly and the  raspberry charlotte with lime meringue, fig compote  and citrus tuile. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal!

Dinner is served Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m; and  Sunday, 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Happy Hour, offered  daily in the Jellyfish Lounge & Oyster Bar, goes from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Reservations for dinner are recommended by phone or Open Table. Info: 415.956.6969

 

SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE:  Now beginning its second decade as San Francisco’s premiere Off-Broadway style theatre company, the San Francisco Playhouse (http://sfplayhouse.org) presents a diverse line up of shows from cutting edge, bold plays direct from Broadway runs like Bengal Tiger in the Bagdad Zoo to innovative musicals like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson or classic musical favorites like My Fair Lady and Company.  The Playhouse has a cool bar and happy hour, as well as the diverse entertainment offering, presenting a wide range of theatre including premieres by new writers, all in an intimate setting of 200 seats.  They are in performances throughout the year, so there is always something for people to see.  I’d make this an automatic stop for any planned trip to San Francisco.

The Playhouse has also been praised for its commitment to new works and for its world premieres, several of which have moved to New York for acclaimed Off Broadway runs. This is a newly renovated theatre which still retains its historical beauty and significance. We thoroughly enjoyed  a showing of the classic La Cage Aux Folles.  As artistic director Bill English notes, there is no better recipe than La Cage, with the catchy tunes of Jerry Herman and the wicked book of Harvey Fierstein to install a permanent grin on our faces. The music and acting was great and the laughter in the room was infectious.You can find the full lineup of their productions planned through September 2018 on their website. It is located at 450 Post Street (between Mason and Powell Streets) on the second floor of the Kensington Hotel, less than one block from Union Square.   There is elevator service.

 

RYOKO’S JAPANESE RESTAURANT & BAR:   In terms of sushi, there is no question that Ryoko’s  Japanese Restaurant & Bar is tops in San Francisco.  Located on the border of Nob Hill and Tenderloin, at 619 Taylor, this is a lively basement sushi spot helmed by high-skilled Japanese chefs. There is a dj every night but Sunday. Reiko Kobayashi, whose mom Ryoko owns the spot, notes that it has been in operation for 30 years. It opens at 6 pm each night and continues serving until 1:30 am. Reservations are not taken here, so prepare to line up.  When we arrived at 7:30 pm there were already many people standing along the stairs and out the door. You first must enter the name of your party on a sign-up sheet, but it is truly worth the wait. The manager on duty, Ling, got us a nice table, had us seated and made some helpful suggestions starting off with a creative cocktail. As for the menu and the evening’s specials, posted on a board behind the bar, she was right on the mark. We shared the beef teriyaki, the grilled whole squid,   oh toro (fatty tuna), jumping unagi (eel), spicy scallop, shrimp symphony, crunchy crab (deep fried soft shell crab, cucumber and mayonnaise and the 49ers (crab and avocado with tuna and salmon on top) named in honour of the city’s football team. There are also sushi rolls named after Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39. Some of the other favorites include  such non-traditional maki rolls as the Kentucky, which has fried chicken in it. There is also the volcano, containing fried shrimp, jalapeño, and peanut butter. Everything here is served so fresh. There is no handicapped access to the restaurant.

 

JOHN’S GRILL: There is a very historic restaurant in San Francisco called John’s Grill (www.johnsgrill.com). This is one of the city’s oldest and most famous dining establishments, born in 1908, known for its great steaks, seafood, salads and pastas and the price is indeed right. The restaurant was actually a setting in author Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. You will be impressed with the interior, complete with original period furnishings as well as a kind of virtual museum of authentic memorabilia. The dark oak panelled walls are covered with photos of well-known patrons and San Francisco of the past. Located within walking distance from Union Square, it has a full bar and is open daily. The list of famous patrons, from Hillary Clinton to Johnny Depp, can be found on their website.   General Manager Sean Kulanet gave me a personal tour of the restaurant. We were seated on the main level. Little did we realize that there were two more floors and a total capacity for nearly 300 diners.  Last year they installed an elevator for patrons in wheelchairs or with mobility problems. Washrooms are also handicapped accessible. On the bright and cheerful top floor, a private room with a door can accommodate a small group. This is excellent for business meetings or family gatherings.

Our excellent server was Chris. He gave us the option of ordering from the main menu or the evening table d’hôte.  Our party of three each chose the latter. It began with a jumbo prawn cocktail, followed by a choice of either some New England clam chowder or a Jack Lalanne favorite salad for two. It contained seasonal greens, crab, shrimp, avocado, mushrooms and tomato tossed in their famous creamy bleu cheese vinaigrette dressing.  We opted for the New York steak and definitely made the right choice. It was perfectly cooked and cut like butter.

All beef entrees are served with seasonal vegetables and baked Idaho potato. They have an extensive wine and drink list. I chose a wonderful glass of Chardonnay. For dessert we thoroughly enjoyed the flan (vanilla cream caramel).   The restaurant is located at 63 Ellis Street.  It is always crowded so call first for reservations at 415-986-3274.

 

PIER MARKET: Be sure to experience the Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, located at Pier 39. The family owned restaurant specializes in mesquite-grilled fresh, local, sustainable seafood and fabulous California wines enjoyed while providing bay views of Alcatraz and the Pier 39 sea lions. You can also enjoy dining on their fabulous outdoor patio, perfect for people watching on the Pier.  Owned and operated by the Simmons family, who created and built Pier  39, they own three other restaurants – the Fog Harbor Fish House, the Wipeout Bar & Grill and the Biscoff Coffee Corner. The Simmons family has been a part of San Francisco for over 30 years, created and developed Pier 39 and are third-generation restaurant purveyors, priding themselves with being a family-owned and operated business and a sustainable seafood company.

We started off with some drinks, a raspberry mojito and a California Dreamin’ (vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juices, shaken). For appetizers we opted for the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and salad combo. The chowder was piping hot and when I was done I ate a good part of the bowl; the Caesar salad was tasty. We also had half a dozen shucked oysters served on the half shell. For the main course we turned to their specialties section and selected the crab cake dinner (a large portion of their fabulous crab cakes served with Cajun rémoulade) and the whole Dungeness crab, which comes teamed and served with drawn butter. For dessert we treated ourselves to the warm chocolate fudge cake and the tiramisu. The service was excellent and we appreciated manager Michael Guevara checking in on us throughout the evening. The restaurant is very much handicapped accessible; in fact the entire pier is beautifully set up to accommodate those in wheelchairs.

Log on to www.piermarket.com for more information. And a great video-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w8uxBpawfU

 

BEST PIZZA:   I can never travel without sampling the best pizza in town. In San Francisco that would be Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria (https://www.amicis.com). In the mid-1980’s two East Coast transplants, Peter Cooperstein from Boston, and Mike Forter from New York decided to do something about their mutual longing for the style of pizza they’d grown up with, and set out on a quest to learn the secrets that made pies from the famous pizzerias of New York, Boston, and Connecticut so distinctively delicious. The friends discovered that their favorite pizzerias had something in common: a traditional, Italian brick oven. The 700 degree temperatures of the stone hearths produced thin crusts that were crisp, airy, and slightly chewy. When the pies ingredients were of the highest quality and freshness, those hot bricks melded together the flavors just right, for a taste that was nothing short of perfection. Peter and Mike returned inspired, and were excited to share what they had learned with fellow East Coast transplants. In 1987 they opened the first Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria in downtown San Mateo and to their delight it became a success – not only with transplants, but with everyone. With a focus on authenticity, friendly service, customer satisfaction, and with carefully measured growth, Amici’s has become the Bay Area’s standard for high-quality, freshly made pizzas, pastas, and salads enjoyed by thousands in their homes, businesses, and in Amici’s stylish restaurants. There are 10 locations, including two in San Francisco. We stopped at the one at 2200 Lombard, conveniently on the route of the hop-on, hop-off bus and it made for a fantastic lunch!

At Amici’s, the pizzas are baked in brick ovens, the way tradition-minded Italians have been baking pizzas for hundreds of years. Because the pies are baked directly on the super-hot brick floor, the crust comes out crisp and darker than the typical American pizza – often a bit black. If you are a crust lover, you will find this crust distinctively delicious. If a darker crust is not to your liking, just specify “light crust,” although the result may be undercooked for some tastes. Besides pizzas, they have salads, sides, starters and desserts.  You can call 415-885-4500 for more information.

 

DINNER CRUISE:   Are you looking to do something completely different in San Francisco? We had a wonderful evening on the Hornblower Dining Cruise (www.hornblower.com). You’re not truly a San Franciscan, we were told, until you cruise the Bay! With the Hornblower you can embark upon an exquisite brunch, lunch, or dinner cruise, feast on shimmering Bay views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, and take it that gorgeous city skyline.  There is great food, special cocktails, champagne, live music, and the most stunning views in town. We chose a three hour  dinner cruise, complete with a four course seated dinner. Our sever Lupita welcomed us to our table with some glasses of sparkling wine, summer spinach salads and a basket of fresh bread. We each enjoyed some piping hot tomato basil soup and ordered the herb roasted chicken breast, with risotto cake, seasonal vegetables and lemon butter sauce and the braised lamb shank with parmesan truffle mashed potatoes and seasonable vegetables.  Decadent chocolate flourless cake with raspberry glaze topped off one fine meal. The Hornblower departs and returns from Pier 3 on The Embarcadero. For 35 years, its yachts have sailed past famed landmarks while serving seven California cities and New York City.   In addition to dining cruises and classic, scenic, city and wildlife tours, the company hosts holiday dining cruises and private charters for corporate, school and family groups. Whether an intimate anniversary celebration, a wedding ceremony, a teambuilding event or a birthday bash for up to 2,200, Hornblower’s professional event planners help clients navigate every detail. We loved every minute of this experience, stepping outside to take some priceless photos and revelling in some unforgettable scenery. You can call  415-788-8866 or email sf@hornnblower.com Monday to Friday. Hornblower does have accessible yachts in the fleet. However, not all yachts and decks are accessible. You need to call 1-888-467-6256 to ensure handicap accessibility for the date you are planning to cruise

Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey

Ever since I can remember, the Marc Jordan song with the lyrics “Living in Marina del Rey” has been ringing in my head. So when I planned our trip to California, the tune indeed led me to this destination.

Set in the heart of the Los Angeles coastline, Marina Del Rey (http://www.visitmarinadelrey.com) is a waterfront playground with endless harbor views and a relaxed “California cool” vibe on LA’s bustling Westside. Its prime location is four miles from LAX, steps from world-famous Venice Beach and is easily accessible to major Los Angeles attractions like Santa Monica and the Getty Museum.

With year-round sunshine and average temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s, the breezy, cool and Idyllic way of life in the Marina appeals to visitors and locals.

WHERE TO STAY: Tucked along the Pacific coast between Venice Beach and peaceful Playa Vista, The Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/marina-del-rey) is one of the most ideally located luxury hotels near Culver City, to explore Southern California’s most eclectic stretch of coastline. Literally meaning “sea coast of the king,” Marina Del Rey is aptly named, as it is home to more than 7,000 pleasure boats and yachts in one of the largest man-made marinas in the world, as well as shopping and gourmet dining.

The hotel is conveniently located near some of the most sough-after tech companies such as YouTube, IMAX and the future Google campus. It  recently underwent extensive guest room enhancements, finishing one of its premier ballrooms that overlooks the marina.

We are big fans of the Ritz-Carlton property in our native Montreal, so it was very exciting to spend the day at this Marina del Rey location and give a private tour of the facility. From private Juliet balconies off of every guest room, or from a restaurant terrace where handcrafted cocktails around a fire pit stir inevitable conversation, this is one of the finest luxury hotels in Marina del Rey. It features 304 guest rooms and suites with private balconies featuring marina and city skyline views. There are Exclusive key-access-only Ritz-Carlton Club® Level rooms, L.A.’s only waterfront pool and whirlpool and a newly renovated lobby lounge. I was thoroughly impressed with the state-of-the-art fitness center, with eucalyptus steam rooms, full showers, restrooms and keypad lockers with safe.

My family and I were escorted the poolside and shown to a beautiful private cabana.  Inside there was an extremely comfortable couch, a television with a remote control, a fridge stocked with waters, soft drinks and fresh fruit and a basket full of delicious snacks. On a small table were a selection of nice magazines. Outside the covered structure were three nicely padded lounge chairs with towels and large umbrellas to block the sun. We were provided with a menu to the Waves Poolside Bar & Grill. After one of the staff members brought us a bottle of champagne we placed our order, a superb hamburger with salad, a chicken sandwich and some chicken strips. It all arrived promptly and perfectly prepared.

The pool was refreshing and the whirlpool even more refreshing. Using our pass key, we took a leisurely stroll outside the grounds to admire the marina and the many different boats.

Director of Sales and Marketing Ed Curry gave me a tour of the facility. The Cast & Plow Restaurant off the lobby offers one of the prettier patio layouts I have seen. At the gift shop Curry told me that skateboards actually represent the top-selling item. “We can’t keep them on the shelf long enough before we need to order more,” he said.

Up we went to the 12th floor to see one of the beautiful guest rooms with a view and then down a short flight of stairs into the exclusive Ritz-Carlton Concierge Club Lounge. This beautifully designed room is open to all guests for an extra charge of $250 a day for snacks, drinks and a private place to relax.

This is definitely a hotel I’d like to enjoy an extended stay at some time in the future.

SIXT RENT A CAR: For this trip to California, renting our own car was a priority.  In researching all of the different options I came across one I was frankly not familiar with called Sixt Rent a Car (www.sixt.com). After collecting our luggage at Los Angeles International Airport, we headed to the shuttle area where a Sixt van pulled up and brought us to their large garage very nearby. It was seamless check-in process. I was pleasantly surprised to drive away with a significant upgrade – a white Mercedes. This was a first for me. Customer Service Branch Manager Maria Vigil patiently explained the operation of the vehicle. It drove so smoothly, I was very sad to return the keys at the end of my trip. We also met the new branch manager, Amar Tankha, who told us that Sixt also has branches in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and Santa Monica.

Sixt Rent a Car was founded in 1912 in Munich, Germany, and started out with a fleet of just three vehicles. As one of the first and most important international car rental companies in the world – with over 100 years in operation – the business seems to have earned a trusted reputation as a global leading car rental provider. Sixt was the first car rental company with a website and the first to accept mobile reservations. Today they are present in over 100 countries with branches in over 4,000 locations. You will be able to find Sixt car rental services internationally, in almost every major city and tourist destination worldwide and at convenient locations such as airports, train stations, cruise ports, and hotels.

Sixt expanded to the United States in 2011 and is now present at 50 locations in 14 States. This includes the following airport locales: Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), Phoenix (PHX), Seattle (SEA), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), Atlanta (ATP) and Tampa (TPA). Up next will be San Diego and San Antonio. According to Daniel Florence, the co-president for Sixt USA, operations began at Miami Airport and rapidly expanded both within Florida and to key on- and off-airport locations throughout the US.

The company’s strengths lie in the high proportion of premium cars in its vehicle fleet, the consistent service orientation of employees, and a good price-performance ratio. Taken together, these strengths have given the company an excellent market position. “We are proud to maintain alliances with renowned brands in the hotel industry, well-known airlines and numerous prominent service providers in the tourism sector,” stated Florence.

Sixt has a wide range of categories and models, including SUVs, convertibles, sedans, pick-up trucks, vans, and sports cars. The majority of its vehicles are from premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Cadillac, and BMW.

There is a lot of buzz around hidden costs when renting a car. Which are the advantages of renting with Sixt?  “We always say that with Sixt, you can drive first class and pay economy, and it’s really true,” says Florence. “Our cars are generally no more than nine months old, and we offer premium brands at extremely competitive prices. Additionally, the Sixt experience is just unique – our customers are impressed by everything from the sleek design of the stations to our friendly rental agents, who might offer a chilled bottle of water on a hot day. A couple of weeks ago in Miami Beach, we surprised our customers with popsicles, beach balls, sunglasses, and photos. We strive to keep our rates as transparent as possible, and our rental agents are always happy to explain in-depth how our coverage packages and other additional sales products works, so that there are no surprises in the end.”

 

Santa Monica

SANTA MONICA AND THE WESTIN LAX: After spending a week in San Francisco and five days in Beverly Hills, we decided to conclude our trip with a relaxing five day stay in Santa Monica (http://www.santamonica.com).

Santa Monica sits perched on the Pacific Ocean at the crossroads of Pacific Coast Highway and California Interstate Highway 10, a mere eight non-freeway miles from Los Angeles International Airport and within close proximity to all of LA’s most famous landmarks and attractions. It is a great spot to walk on the beach, take in all of the rides and fun at the pier and do some shopping at the 3rd Street Promenade.

DOUBLETREE EXPERIENCE:   Just a short walk from the pier you will find the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Santa Monica (www.SantaMonicaSuites.DoubleTree.com). When you check into this all-suite hotel,   a warm DoubleTree chocolate chip cookie awaits you. You are only three blocks away from the beach.

The two-room suites provide room for work or for the whole family. A private bedroom and separate seating area with a sofa bed mean that everyone can have their own space. You can watch a movie on one of the two 55 inch flat-screen TVs, or surf the web while you make a snack. A wet bar with a microwave, refrigerator, and coffeemaker gives you some of the freedom of being at home.

We especially appreciated their outdoor pool, which was kind of a game breaker for us. You can unwind after a busy day with a workout in the fully equipped fitness center, or relax with friends over a pre-dinner drink in the Jazz Loft bar. You can grab a bite at the Fourth Street Grille, or a coffee and a snack to go to Cafe Pronto. Top marks go to this hotel for its breakfast service, which runs from 6 am to Noon on weekends and until 11 am on weekdays. The buffet has some nice choices, but I especially appreciated the polite staff who made any type of egg request on your mind.

I was thoroughly impressed with the unique free shuttle service to points of interest in Santa Monica provided by Santa Monica Free Ride. This souped-up four seat golf cart runs seven days a week, from Noon to 8:45 pm. All you need to do is send a text and allow 10 to 15 minutes for pickup. It was great to leave the car at the hotel, which offers a super valet parking service and save money on any taxi or Uber expenses.

General Manager Brian Murphy told me that the hotel is about to undergo a significant renovation job and by next year they will become a full Hilton property.

The hotel has elevators leading to every floor, easy wheelchair access to the pool and health clubs and handicapped lifts for the pool and whirlpool.

THE LOEWS: Meanwhile, after experiencing a Loews resort in St. Petersburg, Florida last winter, we were excited to check out the Loews Santa Monica (https://www.loewshotels.com/santa-monica).

This hotel has 347 luxurious guestrooms including 21 suites (all including white noise machines). There are 17,000 square feet of indoor function space, with ocean views, an Eco-friendly full-service spa offering organic treatments and the Ocean & Vine restaurant, which serves locally caught seafood and fresh farmers’ market produce.   There is also the Bar Belle Lounge, a tribute to Santa Monica’s famed “Muscle Beach” female bodybuilder Abbye Stockton. There is Wi-Fi in all guestrooms and public spaces.

Located at 1700 Ocean Avenue,   you can consider the sound of waves to be the soundtrack of your stay. Here, you can stroll along miles of perfectly maintained beaches and take in front-row views of the Pacific Ocean. We spent the day at the two-tier pool deck overlooking the sea, the perfect place to soak up the sun as you recline on a comfortable chaise. While you unwind, enjoy extras such as Evian Mist, chilled fruit, and tropical smoothies thanks to some signature poolside pampering. In the summer, the attentive poolside concierge delivers all that and more. A soak in the Jacuzzi represented a nice treat. The pool itself is so beautifully heated that I just did not want to get out.

After a workout at the very spacious fitness center, you can relax in the Eucalyptus steam room or spoil yourself with an Aroma Massage or Pure Fiji Guava Anti-Aging Nourishing Wrap at the Ocean Spa.  Very soon, the hotel will begin offering outdoor workouts on a grass setting at the beach. If work is calling, they have a full-service Executive Business Center. If you prefer to return emails poolside, there is Wi-Fi.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch and some smoothie’s poolside via the Blue Streak Restaurant, where you can enjoy sandwiches and snacks served with a side of stunning Pacific views every day from 11 am to 10 pm.

The hotel offers 12 ADA rooms, one of which is a suite. Some rooms are hearing accessible and some have a roll-in shower feature. As demonstrated by the tour area Director of Public Relations Jaclyn Slifer gave me, there is a ramp at the pool deck to get to the lower Ocean Terrace area with fire pits, and the elevators take guests right to beach access, where another ramp leads straight to the beach.

DINING OUT:   Santa Monica emerged as an international culinary destination in the 1980s and has remained in the top echelon of American dining thanks to local culinary innovators, a firm commitment to farm-to-table dining and year-round access to the world’s finest ingredients. The prominence of Santa Monica’s culinary scene has become a central part of the destination’s culture, and interactive culinary experiences offer an exciting opportunity for visitors to be authentically integrated into it.

For an upscale, but not stuffy dinner with the ocean just outside, Water Grill’s  (www.watergrill.com) Santa Monica location at 1401 Ocean Avenue offers a seafood dining experience for the adventurous at heart. The menu has an entire page just for the raw bar, featuring oysters from all up and down the east and west coast. For the seafood lover, there are a number of different whole fish entrees, such as European sea bass or New Zealand pink bream. For over 25 years, the Water Grill has pleased the palates of seafood lovers in Southern California. Water Grill delivers a remarkable experience through its devotion and inspiration for seafood. Hailed as “the best seafood in Southern California” by the internationally recognized Zagat Guide, it consistently offers dazzling fish preparations of superior quality and freshness.

On the night we visited the place was packed, with people happily waiting for a table. Everyone I asked told me that this is the best dining establishment in all of Santa Monica. I could tell this place was going to be good as early as the bread plate arriving at the table. Yes, the bread was that good.

We started off with a drink, the appropriately named Ocean Avenue, containing vodka, fresh strawberry & lemon juice, with tarragon essence and served over ice. Our charming server Alicia then provided some background on the menu. We shared an order of Baja Stone Crab to start and I had my personal favorite, a bowl of New England clam chowder. For the main course the Wild Black Cod Miso (sablefish), served seared with eggplant, blistered shishito pepper, and red miso sauce called out to two members of our party. This is a favorite fish of family members and not something you see on many menus. I had my eye on the Wild New Zealand Sword Fish, with marinated zucchini and caper brown butter.  In addition, I ordered some Yukon gold mashed potatoes on the side. I wish I could make them as good as this.

The original Downtown Los Angeles Water Grill was remodeled in 2012 and was well received by its guests. In 2013, the Water Grill Santa Monica opened. A third joined the family in San Diego’s Historic Gaslamp Quarter in 2015 and a fourth came on board in the fall of 2016 at the South Coast Plaza in Orange County. Restaurant number five arrived in Dallas, Texas in January 2017.  They all fall under the King’s Seafood Company umbrella.

BEACH BUTLER: On a brief day visit to Santa Monica a few years ago we came across an outfit called Perry’s Café and Rentals (www.perryscafe.com). As tourists, we wanted to spend time at the beach, but we did not bring our own towels, chairs or umbrellas.  Perry’s has been an integral part of the Los Angeles beach scene and an icon in the community for 40 years now. With nine prime locations throughout Santa Monica and Venice beach, including four open-air cafés, they possess a large array of amenities.

Perry’s offers an assortment of beach and bike rentals, delicious foods with fresh ingredients prepared daily, and a variety of items to satisfy your palate.  You can relax at one of their lounge areas, eat with friends, get pampered by our Beach Butlers or simply enjoy a bike ride. Oh yes, the Beach Butler.  We took the option for beach chairs, umbrellas, a wind block, a small table, towels, a cooler of iced water and a boogie board. Our “Butler” was Sheldon. He gave us his cell phone number when we were settled in and simply said to text him if we needed anything. We only spent a few hours there, but this was indeed a paradise setting. The water was comfortable and frankly, we cannot wait to repeat the experience the next time we go back.    For reservations just call 310-303-8493 or via their website.

WESTIN LAX:  Rather than rush to check out of our Santa Monica hotel to get to the airport for our return flight home, we decided to stay at the Westin Los Angeles Airport (http://www.westinlosangelesairport.com) for the final night. This is a beautiful property which many travelers use as a base for an entire trip.

Located just four blocks from LAX, The Westin Los Angeles Airport is ideally situated for your convenience. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, this sophisticated hotel puts you within easy reach of everything you need for a successful trip. Major companies such as Boeing, Raytheon and Mattel are just a short drive away, as are the quintessential Southern California communities of Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Marina del Rey and Santa Monica.

I got the family settled in,  returned my Sixt Rent a Car vehicle only a few blocks away and came back to 5400 West Century Blvd. What a good decision this was. We had a deluxe corner king non-smoking suite, with a separate living room, a nice balcony and a large washroom. Both rooms were outfitted with white noise machines, something I sleep with every night of the year. Being next to an airport, this is a very bright move by the hotel. We had a small fridge, a hide-a-bed and a large sofa, a desk for me to write this very story on my computer and Wi-Fi connections for up to four devices. This was an absolutely fabulous setup which really helped us conclude our trip on a very positive note. The room also gave us access to the 12th floor Westin Executive Club Lounge.    Westin Executive Club Room guests and SPG® Platinum members enjoy exclusive access. It includes complimentary wireless high-speed internet access, computer workstations, access to business news, and Starbucks® coffee 24 hours a day. Breakfast is served Monday through Friday mornings, and hors-d’oeuvres are served Monday through Thursday evenings. The hotel does provide a shuttle to and from the airport every 20 minutes.

There is a nice outdoor pool and whirlpool, 24/7 workout facilities, a top-notch business center,  accommodations for dogs up to 40 pounds, superb meeting facilities and several options of where to dine. The 1930’s-style Daily Grill Restaurant & Bar is inspired by the great city grills of yesteryear; it’s a great spot in which to toast the end of a successful day. Daily Grill features an all-American menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as an expansive appetizer and cocktail menu, available from 4 to 7 pm daily.  We had a nice dinner there.

I would definitely recommend this place for more than a one night stay. They even have a shuttle to Manhattan Beach.

For more information call (310) 216-5858.