Myrtle Beach Via Plattsburgh

For our recent summer family holiday to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina we decided that a 16 hour drive from Montreal was not on our wish list. There is a viable alternative in Spirit Airlines (www.spirit.com) and we happily took advantage of it, flying directly to our destination via Plattsburgh, New York. This has long been a favorite stop for Montrealers, given its close proximity. The city beaches and camp grounds are packed all summer long and it is also a spectacular place for boating, wind surfing, or fishing.

We left a day early and checked in at the Comfort Inn (www.plattsburghcomfortinn.com), spent a few hours at the Champlain Mall and enjoyed a nice dinner at the Butcher Block Restaurant (www.butcherblockrestaurant.com). It was the right decision for we did not have to worry about being held up at customs and got to sleep in a little before our 2 p.m. flight. We landed at 1 p.m. on the return home and following a stop for groceries we were home for supper.

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Spirit is known as the ultra-low cost airline of the Americas and home of the Bare Fare. What this means is that fares are unbundled, reflecting the cost of taking customers to their destination without any extras. Every customer gets frill control: the ability to choose what perks and options you’d like to add, independent of the choices of other passengers. Officials at the airline maintain that by structuring fares this way, every passenger has a chance to fly for less than any other airline. Spirit currently operates more than 380 daily flights to 57 destinations within the U.S., Latin America, Caribbean and Canada.

We were very happy with our Spirit experience. The flight to Myrtle Beach was just over two hours. Spirit charges you separately for checked bags and carry on items. In actuality, all airlines charge for these items, but they bundle them in the price. One small personal item that fits under your seat is permitted for free. The planes have wider seats in two by two seating configuration with extra-large leg room, Spirit calls them the Big Front Seats, which are about the size of a first-class seat, but available for around $25. Make sure to check in online 24 hours before the flight print your boarding pass at home. If you wait until getting to the airport, that will result in an extra $10 charge per booking.

Spirit, recognized as the fastest growing airline in the Americas, recently received a respected, independent endorsement that being different makes them one of the best. Air Transport World named Spirit as the Value Airline of the Year at its 41st annual Industry Achievement Awards ceremony. This marked the first time Spirit had received the award. The air carrier known for its bright yellow planes and humorous emails, has only been operating in the low-cost space since 2007.

“At Spirit we are focused on providing the lowest possible fares to our customers, and that means we do things a little differently,” said Ben Baldanza president and CEO. “We’re honoured that ATW recognizes our differences and that you can run a successful airline and not charge high fares.”

According to the Department of Transportation statistics, Spirit fares are, on average, 40 percent lower than other airlines. Even after adding additional items like seat assignments, bags, and refreshments, Spirit’s total price is 35 percent lower.

“We invest heavily in safety and people,” added Baldanza. “But what we don’t invest in are things that raise ticket prices like multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, multiple-class cabins, and heavy satellite and Wi-Fi equipment which adds a lot more weight to the plane causing inefficient use of fuel. We also don’t force our customers to pay for items they may not want in the form of higher priced all-inclusive fares.”

“Spirit is changing the way leisure flyers approach air travel,” according to an article written in Air Transport World Magazine to announce Spirit’s achievement. “For some families, Spirit has provided the first-ever opportunity for them to fly to a vacation destination or to visit relatives rather than spending hours and days on the road.”

“Winning this award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our Spirit Team Members to save our customers money and run a good airline,” added Baldanza. “This may be our first time to receive this recognition but we want to win it each and every year.”

Spirit recently introduced five international and four new domestic routes to its ever expanding network. “Spirit’s growth continues to be focused on places our customers want to fly to for less” said Mark Kopczak,vice-president of Network Planning. “Our bare fares™ plus frill control™ allow our customers to customize their travel experience while saving money, whether it’s for a trip to Latin America from Houston, to visit friends and family in one of the new cities that Spirit will add from Atlanta this summer or for an excursion from Latrobe/Pittsburgh to see the sights in Chicago. Cost-conscious customers can save on travel to more places than ever with Spirit.”

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Spirit Airlines suggests that any travellers with special needs identify where they may needs assistance at the time of booking. Customer service personnel have been specially trained and are aware of applicable Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) disability regulations. Spirit offers a special TTY/TDD reservations service in conjunction with AT&T Relay Service. Customers may take wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, or assist devices, in addition to one carry-on item. Devices can be stowed in an overhead bin, underneath the seat or in the forward cargo bin. Spirit works closely with the airports they serve to ensure that all facilities are accessible to everyone. Personnel are available to assist customers with disabilities in boarding deplaning and connecting with their flights. They will provide assistance in getting customers to and from gates. However, they are not equipped to provide full monitoring while waiting at the gate. Theo will provide transfer service on and off the aircraft using boarding or aisle chairs that are designed for aircraft aisles. If you are making a connection, they will provide assistance between flights using our wheelchair service. If requested and needed, they will make available your own wheelchair from the aircraft cargo compartment for your use during your layover. The airline will do its best to offer specific requests in seating for customers with disabilities. Although they offer assigned seating, it is on a first come first serve basis, and it is suggested you check in at least one hour prior to departure to better serve your request. Service animals trained to assist customers with mobility, visual and hearing disabilities, in the aircraft cabin are permitted. A service animal must occupy the floor space where the customer sits and cannot obstruct an aisle or areas that must remain clear in the case of an emergency evacuation.

PLATTSBURGH AIRPORT: Myrtle Beach is a year-round tourist destination and as such the direct route from Plattsburgh International Airport (www.flyplattsburgh.com) is a successful one. “We have had Myrtle Beach service since 2008, first with Direct Air and then with Spirit Airlines,” says airport manager Chris Kreig. “Myrtle Beach is a popular destination for travelers using the airport.”

Created from the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, the airport it is quickly establishing itself as a multi-purpose aviation and aerospace complex serving the entire Plattsburgh/Montreal/Lake Placid region, including northern New York State, southern Quebec and Vermont. A massive, multi-modal facility, the airport has an established record of success as a fully operating industrial airport and aerospace park, handling large and small aircraft daily for its tenants and others. We left our car at the airport. Republic Parking charges only $8 a night and it is free if you are there for six hours or less). Just steps from the terminal, a free shuttle service is available to and from the lots.

Amber Parliament, a spokesperson for the Adirondack Visitors Bureau, a division of the North County Chamber of Commerce (Northcountychamber.com), notes that the airport is currently in the middle of a $55 million expansion with an expected two year construction project. The airport is proud to have bilingual signage, aimed at making it easier for Quebec travellers.

Kreig says he anticipates the terminal expansion project, with the exception of the Customs facility, to be complete by late summer/early fall 2016. “Once completed, the expanded terminal will resolve capacity issues that currently exist and will accommodate future air service growth,” he says. “Completion of the Customs facility will allow for international air service from the airport.”

Kreig says he does not have exact data on Montreal-specific traffic, but in the broader spectrum, approximately 70 percent passenger traffic comes from Canada, with passengers traveling from as far north as Quebec City and as far west as Ottawa. The catchment area for the airport is quite large due in part to the combination of the destinations served, ease of access, and pricing.

The official title of the Airport is the Plattsburgh International Airport. The Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce, which is contracted by the airport to provide marketing support, uses the term “Montreal’s U.S. Airport” as part of their marketing efforts, but Montreal is not part of the official title of the Airport.

The airport has handicapped accessible parking, washrooms, and an elevator and there are wheelchairs available. In addition, there are boarding ramps that accommodate wheelchairs for those aircraft which conduct ground boarding.

ACCOMODATIONS: The Comfort Inn and Suites (plattsburghcomfortinn.com) at 411 Route 3 has tended to be our “go to” spot in Plattsburgh over the years. They have one bedroom suites, which includes a fairly large bedroom, work desk and television and a separate living room containing a pullout couch, a TV, sink and a microwave and fridge.

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There is a free hot and cold breakfast. If you sleep in, a new Perkin’s Restaurant is attached to the facility. There is also a Boulangerie Café, a lobby coffee shop featuring Starbucks™ Coffee and fresh baked pastries. Legends Sports Bar is the place to catch the latest game on the tube. The hotel is now in the midst of doubling Champy’s Fun Zone, their family entertainment center, to 12,000 square feet. They will add a two story lazer tag arena, an elaborate two storey soft play full of the latest innovations, Lazer Maze, indoor bumper cars and a Build a Bear area. This is in addition to their current 18 hole indoor mini golf, miniature bowling alleys, redemption games and video games. Outdoor batting cages and mini golf are planned for some time in 2016.

You might want to find time to check out the hotel’s health club and fitness center, entertainment room, indoor heated pool complete with a waterslide and other features young children will particularly enjoy. Of their 114 rooms, 28 are suites. They come complete with fridges, microwaves and a kitchenette sink. A gigantic Wal-Mart Super Store is literally in the parking lot while the Champlain Mall and Price Chopper supermarket are a short walk away.

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Owner Jim Murray and his partner Terry Meron opened the locale in 1988. Murray was a teacher by profession. Meron owned an Italian restaurant. He wanted to get into the hotel business and asked Murray to come aboard. Before you could say “reservation” they had a Comfort Inn franchise, which they have expanded substantially over the years. It has a games room, party room and banquet facilities. They secured the Perkin’s franchise in 2006 to give customers another reason not to have to leave the facility. Canadian clients come to Plattsburgh for the great merchandising deals.

The hotel has several handicapped parking spots in front of the main entrance. Large-sized elevators will bring you to the second floor. Make sure to advise them of any special needs when making a reservation for there are some suites on the top floor which you can only access by stairs.

If you forgot to bring along any necessities, the front desk has a magic drawer complete with toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream and razors.

For more information you can log on to their website at www.plattsburghcomfortinn.com, e-mail info@plattsburghcomfortinn.com or call (518) 562-2730.

DINING OUT:
One of the perks of staying overnight in Plattsburgh is a chance to dine at the Butcher Block, which has been around for decades at 15 Booth Drive. While the menu includes scrumptious chicken, pasta, and other quality delights, seafood and beef still grab most of the headlines. They have a nice kids menu as well. On the night we were there you could hear the French language emanating from many tables.

Since opening in 1975, the Butcher Block has become a mainstay of the restaurant trade. The menu is eclectic and unpretentious, but done with flair. Daily featured entrees are written on a board in the lobby and repeated at the table by the wait staff. This place has an excellent soup, salad and bread bar. It comes with all main entrees or can be ordered as a meal. I highly recommend the prime rib. For fish lovers, the maple Dijon salmon is top-notch. As a side, the loaded mashed potatoes are a good option. If you have room for dessert, consider a hot fudge sundae.
The entrance to the restaurant is handicapped accessible and so are most of the sections.

For reservations call 518-563-0920. It is open for lunch seven days a week, (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.); dinner Monday to Thursday, 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; and Sunday dinner, 4 p.m. To 9 p.m. You can access the entire menu at www.butcherblockrestaurant.com.

Richmond, BC: River Rock Casino

I have been to Vancouver many times. On my most recent visit I was actually based in the suburb of Richmond just by the airport, the site of an animal welfare conference I registered for.

Richmond (http://www.tourismrichmond.com) is actually the fourth largest city in BC, just 25 minutes south of downtown Vancouver and 25 minutes north of the United States border – a city of stunning mountain vistas, beautiful waterfront sunsets and vibrant urban living. It is also where they shoot my favorite television series, once Upon a Time – more specifically the seaside village of Steveston.

I was fortunate that the National Animal Welfare Conference was being held at the amazing River Rock Casino Resort (www.riverrock.com). The casino itself has 90,000 square feet of game floor, 115 table games, 1,100 slot machines, a dedicated poker room and high limit rooms.

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The resort has a swimming pool with big Jacuzzi and 70 foot waterslide, a spa with six private treatment rooms, a work-out gym and weight room, a very popular show theatre presenting some of the top modern artists in music, comedy, theatre and more. There are seven bars, restaurants and lounges spread throughout our property as well as live music with no cover charge four nights a week at Lulu’s, a beautiful marina and boardwalk overlooking the Fraser River and a heated waterfront patio. There is a 24-hour food court, as well as Java Jack’s, a convenient stop for quality artisan coffee, smoothies, soft drinks, pastries, sandwiches and more.

Back to the casino for a moment. Some slots are games of pure chance, such as penny and quarter slots like Wheel of Fortune, while others will test your skill, such as video poker. You can choose to play a progressive bank like Casino Cash, or try your luck to win a brand new car at Race to Win.

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There certainly have been some good Montreal connections at the resort. The Lara Fabian Greatest Hits Tour just appeared there while April Wine was also on the list.

River Rock is centrally located between two major shopping districts: the diverse, world-class shopping centres and niche neighbourhoods in Vancouver, and the bustling and uniquely Asian-Canadian Richmond area shopping attractions. You can reach downtown in no time at all by taking the Skytrain, which also brings you directly to the airport.

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As for the rooms, we stayed in a lovely 525 square foot one bedroom suite. This featured a luxury Euro-top cashmere King bed, with 300 thread count sheets and down/feather (60/40) duvet. There is a sofa bed with seven inch mattress in living room , a 42 inch TV in the living rooms and a 32 inch model in the bedroom, am iPod dock and speaker with alarm clock, quality bathroom amenities, a mini fridge, 24 hour room service and upon request a crib, a humidifier and microwave. It was very spacious and comfortable.

HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE: Several accessible parking stalls are available on each level of the parkade near the elevators. The sidewalk leading to the hotel entrance is accessible, with curb cuts to parking surfaces. The main entrance has three sets of double swinging doors (one set is powered. There are two elevators from the lobby to guest room floor, both accessible and with control panels featuring tactile and Braille). As for the guest rooms, five are fully accessible, including wheel-in showers. Five other rooms are also available featuring light alarms, for visitors with impaired hearing.

WHERE TO DINE: While there are certainly some fabulous restaurants in Richmond, we could not resist the temptation of once again experiencing our favorite dining establishment in the heart of Vancouver – Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) on Thurlow Street. We were a party of four on the night we chose to eat there and this was an extraordinary dining experience from the moment we were seated. This is indeed one of the city’s finest restaurants.

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Our waiter Jamie, who has worked at Joe Forte’s for many years, gave us a very good presentation of the specialties.

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 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 now Joe Fortes.

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.

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 can 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 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 three-tiered Seafood Tower on Ice, premium oysters and succulent chops, their signature dishes have become a favourite of locals, celebrities and tourists alike.

We decided to share the magnificent Seafood Tower, featuring Atlantic lobster, chilled crab, local oysters, clams, mussels, scallop ceviche, smoked local albacore tuna and poached jumbo prawns. Not too many restaurants anywhere I have travelled in the world can make something as appetizing as this. It is $59.95 a tier. We also started off with a small order of scallops – cooked to absolute perfection.

For drinks, members of our party had some prosecco, bitter sweet bliss, sparkling pear and Joe’s cranberry cocktail.

One member of our party vividly remembered the mouth-watering miso marinated sable fish from our visit two years earlier so there was no question what was on her list to order. It came with baby bok choy, mushrooms, ginger scallion butter and jasmine rice. She was not disappointed. The appetizer version of the scallops prompted another to order the Jumbo scallops as her main course – a wise choice. We rounded out our selections with the nine ounce filet mignon center cut filet, with café de Paris butter, scallop potatoes and market vegetables and a sensational bone-in rib steak (14 ounces) for myself with bacon, horse radish, mashed potatoes and market vegetables. To say this was the best steak I have had – well since I last dined at Joe Forte’s – would be accurate.

Save room for sweet indulgences. We shared the Dessert Trio – a Tahitian vanilla crème brulee, tiramisu, chocolate raspberry truffle tart, brandied cherries, biscotti and vanilla gelato. What a treat! In addition, we somehow found room to try the Pavlova crisp meringue, with fresh fruit, lemon curd and cream.

Reservations are required. Call 604-669-1940 or email info@joefortes.ca. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Upon arrival at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), located in Richmond, visitors with mobility or agility challenges will appreciate innovative features such as tactile guidance maps of the terminal building, information kiosks equipped with closed-captioned decoders, and ticket counters with amplified hand-sets. YVR is connected to Richmond city centre by a fully-accessible transit system that includes the new Canada Line rapid transit system. From the city centre, getting around Richmond is easy because of the city’s flat, mostly sea-level topography and its many wheelchair-accessible walking trails.

More than 110 Richmond hotels, restaurants, retailers, attractions, and other tourism businesses have made it easy for visitors to identify their level of accessibility by displaying icons on doors, windows, websites, and marketing materials. The level of mobility, hearing and visual accessibility was assessed by 2010 Legacies Now and nearly half of Richmond’s participating businesses rated four or higher out of five. Twenty-four of Richmond’s brand-name hotels now offer wheelchair accessible rooms, and the city’s five modern shopping centres – Richmond Centre, Lansdown Centre, Aberdeen Centre, Yaohan Centre, and Parker Place – are all fully accessible options for convenient one-stop shopping.

The city also encourages full participation of citizens with disabilities. Richmond is the long-time home of Canada’s Man in Motion Rick Hansen, who has won six medals as a Paralympian since being paralysed from the waist down in a car crash at the age of 15. The Rick Hansen Foundation, which operates out of the BCIT Aerospace Campus in Richmond, helped to fund three newly opened playgrounds in Richmond that are specially designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities. These fully-inclusive play spaces along the Middle Arm Waterfront Greenway enable the children to play side-by-side with their friends and families.

Adjacent to the Middle Arm Trail is the Richmond Olympic Oval, which exceeds national standards for accessibility. It features standard ramps, wheel chair accessible washrooms, automatically opening doors, and oversized main elevators that can comfortably transport multiple athletes in wheelchairs. There’s also a wheelchair-accessible indoor rowing and paddling centre. The Richmond Olympic Oval plays a key role in its legacy phase as a multi-sport venue for sport hosting for people with accessibility needs.

Richmond has already successfully hosted the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby championships in May 2009, the World Wheelchair Basketball tournament in August 2009, the 2010 Canada Deaf Curling Championships, the 2010 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and of course they played a key role in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Las Vegas

By Mike Cohen with files from Ilana Spector
LAS VEGAS – Is Las Vegas (www.lasvegastourism.com) truly the most exciting and entertaining city in the world? Consider the fact it is home to luxurious casino hotels, fine dining, wonderful live entertainment and state-of-the art convention and trade show facilities and it probably deserves such a ranking.

Las Vegas Strip shot from the Trump Tower. 2/23/10

Recognized all over the world for its famous Las Vegas Strip, visitors can get a glimpse of amazing world famous re-creations like erupting volcanoes, the Eiffel Tower and the Sphinx of Egypt in front of the various hotels and casinos. There is top quality entertainment, including headliner shows and concerts, attractions, shopping and world-renowned resorts. Las Vegas nightlife is known to keeping visitors up until dawn.

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WHERE TO STAY: Looking for a place to stay? We took the advice of Mitch Garber and chose the fabulously located Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino (www.planethollywoodresort.com) to make reservations. Garber is the President and CEO of Caesars Acquisition Company (CAC). He oversees the entire operation, which includes their group of hotels and casinos. Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino is one of the newest additions to the Caesars Entertainment family in Las Vegas and is a full partner in Total Rewards™. It has 2,500 beautifully designed guest rooms and suites showcasing some of the best views in town and encompasses more than 100,000 square-feet of gaming, several lounges, 10 restaurants, including Gordon Ramsay BurGR, KOI, Strip House, the award-winning Spice Market Buffet and LA’s Pink’s Hot Dogs and the Planet Hollywood Spa by Mandara. The resort is also home to one of pop music’s biggest superstars Britney Spears and her show, “Britney: Piece of Me.” The property is encircled by Miracle Mile Shops with more than 170 specialty stores and restaurants.

Previously known as Aladdin Resort & Casino, Caesars officially acquired the property on February 19, 2010. The property features a three-acre casino floor full of traditional gambling machines like slots, table games and The Playing Field Race and Sports Book. This features 33 plasma screens, two jumbo screens and a section for VIP. Planet Hollywood is the first Las Vegas resort to offer table games dealt by young ladies in “chic lingerie.” The Pleasure Pit is a section of the table games where this happens with go-go dancers entertaining the gamblers at the side.

The Mezzanine can be accessed by taking an escalator in the casino or the elevator. Here, guests can relax on comfy chairs overlooking the casino. The space was designed to be quieter than the main areas of the casino, where guests come to lounge and smoke. The area is rather spaced out with room to walk and includes a place for shooting basketball hoops. It includes a “Living Room” with sofas to be accessed by the guests.
The Planet Hollywood showroom is located on the mezzanine. It features several different live shows.

Accommodations here are fit for the celebrity A-List, and perfect for Hollywood buffs. Every one of its rooms and suites features one-of-a-kind movie memorabilia set against a backdrop of stylish, modern luxury.

If you’re a hardcore Hollywood fan, the Panorama Suites will truly feel like heaven on earth. Measuring 1,255 square feet and offering a 180-degree view of the Strip, each Las Vegas room features its own Hollywood theme which vary from James Bond, Marilyn Monroe, Batman, Star Trek, Will Smith, Back to the Future, The Wizard Oz and much more. Ours featured actress Demi Moore. The 1,255-square-foot floor plan includes a master bedroom with a 36-inch plasma television and separate living area, a master bathroom with oversized soaking tub, a separate dining area with refrigerator and wet bar, and a 52-inch plasma television in the living area. An additional bedroom and bathroom with 500 square-feet can be added to any Panorama Suite –something we opted for. Our party of three really appreciated the individual privacy this arrangement facilitated. In fact we could have fit more than double the amount of people comfortably. There were three, count them “three,” bathrooms. You can connect two WiFi devices at no charge. There is a fee if you go over that amount. The connectivity is fast and reliable.

While The Pleasure Pool is closed for the winter season, the Paris Pool next door remains open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., weather permitting. Located on the resort’s rooftop, Pleasure Pools offers two separate pool decks, two pool bars, live DJs, 15 cabanas with poolside bottle service, daybeds and a pool café.

Right outside the door you can go on an all-out Las Vegas shopping spree at Miracle Mile Shops, featuring the glitz and glam of Hollywood. Located inside Planet Hollywood Las Vegas, the 1.2 mile retail mecca is beyond amazing. Here, you can have your retail therapy and a workout.
Featuring 170 specialty stores, Miracle Mile Shops includes live entertainment at the Saxe Theater and V Theater, plus mouth-watering dining at 15 restaurants ranging from quick and casual to gourmet.

Shops at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas include coveted brands like GUESS, GAP, DC Shoes, Urban Outfitters, Steve Madden, H&M, White House/Black Market and more. Dining options include Pampas Brazilian Grill, La Salsa Cantina, Todai Sushi Buffet and more great Las Vegas restaurants.

BOOKING A SHOW: My family has become a big fan of Viator (www.viator.com). Their team of travel insiders are obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere folks travel. From Paris to Phuket to Perth, from traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they have something for every kind of traveler. They have been around for 17 years now. From their offices around the globe, a team of travel insiders handpick the best local tour and activity providers. Viator officials pre-vet them all to make sure you always have an exceptional experience.

Over three million people have traveled with Viator and they have opinions you’ll want to hear. With Viator you can get the royal treatment, including behind-the-scenes access, private viewings, VIP tours – with no lines and no crowds! If you want to pre-book your trips at home from a laptop or do so on the go, with Viator you get insider access.

Viator has evolved from its founding in Sydney in 1995 as a technology company building websites for other travel companies, to emerge as the leading insider resource for researching and booking destination activities around the world. At the time when other companies were honing in on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars, Viator focused on an untapped niche in the young online travel market—destination activities—or the “things you do when you get there.” Today, Viator is the industry leader in the tours and activities space, with an unprecedented portfolio of thousands of hand-picked tours and activities, and unmatched relationships with a global network of local tour operators.

Viator is not a paid listing or advertising site nor a simple aggregator. Viator’s team of travel experts around the world has built close relationships with local tour operators over the past 10 plus years. Each operator is pre-vetted for quality and service so only the best and most memorable experiences are featured on the site, and the steady stream of verified customer reviews (500,000 and counting) keeps them honest; providers that don’t meet expected service levels are removed. Through a collection of more than 60 consumer-facing websites, mobile apps and mobile sites, Viator reaches more than nine million travelers a month. Its global affiliate network of more than 2,000 active partners expands the company’s reach to even more travelers through affiliate sites like American Airlines, British Airways, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and AAA.

"Michael Jackson ONE" Sneak Peek

We discovered Viator last summer while in Europe and took advantage of its amazing list of options, so when it came to booking a trip to Vegas we turned them again. Viator made our job of selecting a live show so easy. There were simply too many options and going through their website really helped us narrow down our choice which was the Cirque de Soleil’s incredible Michael Jackson ONE (http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/michael-jackson-one/show/about.aspx), a sonic, tonic fusion of acrobatics, dance and visuals that takes the audience on an immersive journey through the music and spirit of Michael Jackson. Shows take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., and Sundays at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dark days are Wednesdays and Thursdays. 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, at the heart of a world that is in turn majestic, playful, magical and heart-warming. Jackson’s spirit is channeled through the vibrant energy of the cast of 63 dancers and performers, underscored by aerial performance, driving acrobatics, and vivid choreographies that use the urban/hip hop idiom as a springboard for exploration.

This new show captures the essence, soul and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations. You’ll be captivated by an array of aerial acrobatics and special effects during this unforgettable performance, which incorporates Jackson’s most popular songs and iconic dance moves.

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. Go to the Viator website and book your tickets and at the same time check out all of the other Vegas options they offer. When the day comes for a return trip, we are eager to experience some of the other live shows they offer, helicopter tours, big bus and city tours, monorail tickets, airport transportation in style, Grand Canyon adventures and much more. Log on to http://www.viator.com/Las-Vegas/d684-ttd.

 

Paris Exterior

EIFFEL TOWER EXPERIENCE: The Paris Hotel, right next to Planet Hollywood, is also a Caesar’s property. Each member of our party had been to Paris, France and went to the top of the real Eiffel Tower. We just had to do the same in Las Vegas. An icon of the city skyline, the high-altitude Paris Hotel Eiffel Tower Experience attraction is located 46 stories up and is a half scale replica of the world-famous Paris landmark. The observation deck features 360 degree city views and knowledgeable ambassadors point out Las Vegas landmarks. A popular spot for weddings, the Eiffel Tower Experience is especially romantic at night. The views of the bright, colorful lights and the lit water show are unmatched. Double the romance with dinner a few stories down at the 11th floor Eiffel Tower Restaurant. This place is known for marriage proposals. You can stop by Kodak’s Total Snap Shot kiosk to purchase a commemorative photo of your “France in Vegas” experience in the sky. Admission prices range from $10 to $19 depending on the day and time you visit. This was a surreal experience to be sure. Close your eyes for a moment and you will truly believe you are in Paris, France. The Tower is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. You can call 1-888- 266-5687 for more information or log on to http://www.parislasvegas.com/things-to-do/eiffel-tower.

This attraction is handicapped accessible. Individuals in wheelchairs who wish to visit the Tower are escorted to the elevators on the Casino Floor and are either taken to the Bridge for pictures or straight to the top.

While on site check out The Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre. The Paris Opera House and Hôtel de Ville.

Maverick Feb 2013 TD 194 of 260

HELICOPTER JUST MAVERICK: Here is an experience we strongly recommend. The Eiffel Tower is one way to see Las Vegas. Climbing aboard a helicopter is another. Maverick Helicopters (www.maverickaviationgroup.com) offer an unforgettable 12 to 15 minute ride, departing from the Las Vegas terminal. A complimentary shuttle provides transportation to and from hotels within five miles of the Strip, so that was incredibly convenient for our party. Make sure to bring a camera, photo ID (for anyone 18 years or older). The cost is $124 a person. Upon arrival you will enjoy a fabulous glass of champagne. Their big draws are trips to the Grand Canyon, something which is at the top of our “to do” list for any future visit.

Guests are treated to the plush interior of Maverick’s ECO-Star helicopters, as well as personal narration by highly qualified pilots. We have high marks for Jonathan, our man in the sky. “Our pilots serve as your concierge/tour guide in the sky and,” says Bryan Kroten, Maverick Aviation Group’s vice-president of marketing. “They are there to narrate, answer questions and make sure you have a good time.”

Maverick attracts customers from around the world. For the busiest six months of the year, summer and fall, they literally have to turn customers away. Says Kroten: “Most people in the world have not been on a helicopter. So in Las Vegas people have the chance to take a 15 minute flight on a $3.3 million helicopter over one of the most exciting cities in the world or a 45 minute trip to the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the world.”

The helicopters are equipped with seven leather passenger seats plus one for the pilot. The seating arrangement is determined by the pilot based on the passengers’ weights. Maverick’s VIP check-in lounges are located on the Strip, only minutes away from the hotels, and at the Henderson Executive Airport, just 15 minutes from the city.

Each helicopters has an exterior camera, as well as an audio system that captures the pilot’s narration and the interaction between guests during the flight. This video keepsake is a great way to share your experience with friends and relive your excursion for years to come. Photographs are also taken prior to departure and are available in a custom plaque. Photo and DVD packages are available only on the same day of your trip and can be purchased before or after your flight.

Those in wheelchairs can enjoy this experience To fly and be accommodated, you will need to have a collapsible wheelchair with removable wheels. You must also be accompanied by someone who can assist you with boarding and disembarking the aircraft. Maverick is ADA compliant. Guest in wheelchairs fly with Maverick often.

Maverick Helicopters was recently named Concierge Choice Award winner for Best Tour Company in Las Vegas by the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association (SNHCA). The 2014 win marks the fifth consecutive year that it has received this prestigious award.

“We are thrilled to receive this award from the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association,” said Greg Rochna, CEO of Maverick Aviation Group, parent company of Maverick Helicopters. “We strive to provide first class helicopter experiences for our guests. Receiving this award means our team’s hard work is paying off.”

Maverick is in expansion mode, opening a new division in Maui, Hawaii in the spring of 2015.
For more information you can call 1-888-261-4414, 702-261-0007 or log on to www.flymaverick.com.

A model Titanic The Artifact Exhibition in Las Vegas shows wha the ship looked like when it was discovered

BODIES AND TITANIC EXHIBITIONS: We strongly recommend you take the time to visit two spectacular visits at the Luxor in Las Vegas: Bodies and the Titanic.
Experienced by more than 15 million people worldwide, Bodies…The Exhibition offers an intimate and informative view into the human body. Using an innovative preservation process, the Exhibition allows visitors to see the human body’s inner beauty in educational and awe-inspiring ways. The Exhibition features over 200 actual human bodies and specimens meticulously dissected and respectfully displayed, offering an unprecedented and wholly unique view into the amazing body.

ATL bodies

The Exhibition takes visitors through galleries providing an up-close look inside the skeletal, muscular, reproductive, respiratory, circulatory and other systems of the human body. Many of the whole body specimens are dissected in vivid athletic poses, allowing the visitor to relate to everyday activities. In addition, authentic human specimens illustrate the damage caused to organs by over-eating and lack of exercise. A healthy lung is featured next to a black lung ravaged by smoking in a vivid comparison more powerful than any textbook image. The Exhibition will change the way people see themselves. It is designed to enlighten, empower, fascinate and inspire.

The human body specimens in the exhibition are preserved through a revolutionary technique called polymer preservation. In this process, human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber that is treated and hardened. The end result is a rubberized specimen, preserved to the cellular level, showcasing the complexity of the body’s many bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs. The full-body specimens can take more than a year to prepare.
There is also a more sensitive section of the exhibition showing fetal development. Guests can see different stages of a baby’s development, from eight weeks old to eight months, as well as fetuses with various birth defects, such as conjoined twins. This exhibit is located in its own private area, so those who feel uncomfortable viewing it can skip to the next section.

It is both startling and informative to see so many body parts and inner organs out in the open when they are usually tucked safely away under your skin. One wouldn’t expect such an intricate part of the nervous system, like the spinal cord, to resemble a clump of seaweed. The tongue, meanwhile, looks a bit like a small, thick cut of steak (Would you like that medium-rare or well-done?).

One of the more startling sights in the exhibit is the display of a smoker’s lung in the respiratory section. Visitors can see and compare a healthy lung to a blackened smoker’s lung. There is also a brain on display here from a person who suffered a stroke — ironically it looks a bit like the inside of an ashtray. After reading some scary, mind-opening facts (like a single pack of cigarettes takes three hours and 40 minutes off your life), you may think twice about puffing. For the guests’ convenience, there is a cigarette disposal bin nearby.

This is a definite lesson in authentic learning and we would strongly advise parents to bring their children of a proper age. They will be able to go back to school and tell their teachers and classmates what they saw.

Meanwhile, if you loved the 1997 movie “Titanic,” then the Titanic exhibit at the Luxor will blow you away. Featuring more than 300 artifacts, as well as breathtaking replicas from the famous ship, the Titanic exhibit truly brings history to life. The exhibit features 20 never-before-seen artifacts including gaming chips, passenger papers and even decorative sections from Titanic’s famous Grand Staircase. In addition, there are many personal pieces within the exhibit. Our party was completely blown away by the fact they could mount such a large exhibition indoors. For anyone who has seen the movie, this is a “must,” visit. If you have not seen the film, this will prompt you to do so.

One of the most heartfelt elements of the exhibit is the personal stories of the passengers. During the tour, the exhibit’s staff shares personal tales from the passengers. Some stories have a tragic, yet romantic ending. For instance, some wives chose to stay behind with their husbands instead of climbing onto the lifeboats.

At the beginning of the exhibit, patrons receive a boarding pass of an actual passenger on Titanic. On the back of each boarding pass is the age and the itinerary of that person. At the end of the tour, patrons find out if he or she survived the Titanic by finding the name on the wall memorial. The exhibit also includes passenger quotes. One of the most poignant sayings came from Jack Thayer, a first-class passenger: “There was no moon and I never seen the stars shine brighter,” he said. “It was the kind of night that made one feel glad to be alive.”

In addition to the passengers’ stories, other fascinating details include their belongings. From a diamond and sapphire ring to a platinum pendant with diamonds, some of the most beautiful pieces recovered from the Titanic are sparkling jewelry. The jewels were conserved — not restored — and many of the dazzling gems managed to keep their original luster.

Aside from jewelry, plenty of the Titanic passengers brought their own china and silverware. Each cup, plate, pitcher and bowl has its own interesting, distinct look. One of the exhibit’s unique pieces discovered is the au gratin plates set, stacked neatly in rows. The au gratin dishes were found lined up inside of a wooden crate that had deteriorated over time — an image that is recreated in the exhibition. Other artifacts include ship tools, postcards, currency, a pipe, a spittoon and playing cards.

While the tiny pieces leave behind a lasting impression, The Big Piece — a huge piece of the ship’s hull — definitely stands out. This piece is currently the largest Titanic artifact ever retrieved. It weighs an astounding 15 tons and measures more than 26 feet long. Bringing it inside was a 48-hour process, involving cranes and a special team of people. It’s considered the crown jewel of the collection and something one must see to believe.

In addition to the artifacts, the exhibit also features amazing replicas from the Titanic. One of these includes the staircase replica. Most remember the staircase scene from the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. This is where first-class passengers met, mingled and admired each other’s outfits. The intricately-detailed staircase replica includes iron, bronze and even the stained glass dome. Visitors have the option of having their picture taken and purchasing it at the end of the tour.

Other noteworthy replicas include the promenade deck (which features the sounds of waves crashing and a starry sky) as well as an iceberg, which guests are more than welcome to touch. Since the iceberg was specifically created for the exhibit, it contains its own cooling system to prevent it from melting.

Make sure to stop and take a look at the third-class and the finely decorated first-class sleeping quarters. Adorned with burgundy colors, elegant décor and mahogany accents, the first-class suite was considered more luxurious than any hotel room on land in its time.

From young to old, visitors of all ages will enjoy this exhibit. There is also gift shop for those who want to take a piece of Titanic home with them. Visitors can purchase everything from T-shirts, stuffed animals, captain hats for kids, cups, key chains and much more. Hours of operation for both exhibits are daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at a cost of $32 per person. The last admission is sold at 9 p.m.

WHERE TO DINE:
Having previously experienced TAO Restaurant in New York City, our party had only one dining spot in mind for Las Vegas and that was the 40,000 square foot, $20 million design-driven dining and entertainment complex TAO at The Venetian-Resort-Hotel Casino (www.taolasvegas.com). TAO opened in New York City in 2000 and has retained its status as a hot spot, attracting celebrities and sports figures and catapulting the restaurant and lounge to iconic status. TAO Las Vegas, which debuted in 2005, is a multi-faceted and multi-story “Asian City” housing a restaurant, banquet facilities, ultra-lounge, nightclub and a seasonal beach.

The restaurant features a twenty-foot Buddha that “floats” peacefully above an infinity pool complete with Japanese Koi. It is a frequent hot spot for A-list celebrities and culinary connoisseurs.

TAO LV_Interior 3_Warren Jagger

Corporate Executive Chef Ralph Scamardella showcases a menu incorporating culinary components from China, Japan and Thailand, along with a full sushi bar and perfectly paired cocktails to complement the authentic Asian cuisine. Signature dishes include offerings from sea, sky and land, including Chilean Sea Bass Satay with Wok Roasted Asparagus, a preparation of Peking Duck that consistently receives accolades and Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu along with a full sushi bar. TAO Beach offers an abbreviated version of TAO Asian Bistro’s dinner menu throughout the day, as well as a brunch menu that boasts specialties like Sesame Berry Pancakes with tempura banana and mandarin butter, Fortune.

Service starts when the server delivers two china bowls, one empty, and the other filled with chilled edamame. The edamame is tossed with mustard oil, thinly sliced shallots, and black sesame seeds.

Our group considered this to be beyond exceptional, sampling a good portion of items on the menu. We recommend the following: Roasted Shishito Peppers with Yuzu; Edamame; Satay of Chilean Sea Bass, with Edamame Hijiki Salad (shitake mushroom plus seaweed); Spicy Tuna Tartare on Crispy Rice; Chinese Five Spice Short Ribs (beef); Salmon Sashimi, with Avocado and Crispy Onions and Sweet and Spicy Sesame Sauce; Shrimp Tempura; Spicy Tuna; Avocado and Soy Paper Roll; Yellowtail Sashimi, with Jalapeno and Ponzu Sauce; Crispy Snapper in the Sand; Vegetable Fried Brown Rice; Spicy Hoi Yin Eggplant; a Giant Fortune Cookie (white and dark chocolate mousse); and Yuzu Sugar Dusted Doughnuts with a trio of dipping sauces. As for alcohol, consider the TAO-tini , Orchid and Sake flight. Our waiter Yorke convinced us to try the restaurant’s three most popular sakes: DY-50; Drunken Snapper; and Demon Slayer. A big shout out to Assistant General Manager Name Eli Micaiah and his extraordinary team.

At TAO Beach, they offer a range of frozen cocktails, like the signature Par-Tee with Tito’s, iced tea and frozen lemonade, in addition to updated classics like the Citrus Blossom Mimosa with Ketel One Citroen, sparkling yuzu sake and lemongrass.

Guests are transported from the City of Sin to the Pacific Rim with TAO’s lush velvets and silks, waterfalls and century-old woods and stones. A Monk Bar is decorated with a wall of almost 300 hand carved monks and candles. TAO Beach’s outdoor oasis features luxury cabanas, daybeds and a 30-foot bar within its 18,000 square foot space.

Since its opening, TAO Asian Bistro and Nightclub has garnered worldwide acclaim as the hottest restaurant, lounge and nightclub in Las Vegas. TAO Beach’s debut in April 2007 increased capacity to over 60,000 square feet of space to host both indoor and outdoor events. The venue consists of seven full service bars, four fully equipped DJ booths, and multiple areas that can be utilized both separately and collectively for corporate parties, product launches, weddings, birthday celebrations, bachelorette/bachelor parties, CD Release Parties, holiday receptions, movie premieres and more.
Co-owners of TAO Las Vegas are Scamardella, Marc Packer, Richard Wolf, Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, Paul Goldstein, Bill Bonbrest, Kim Kurlanchik Russen and Louis Abin.

There is complete wheelchair access at TAO Las Vegas.

For reservations call 702- 388-8588 for special events email sales@taogroup.com. The restaurant, which is wheelchair accessible, is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Saratoga Springs

SARATOGA SPRINGS: We are developing a new routine when traveling to New York City these days. Get across the border late in the day, stop off mid-way overnight and get an early start the following morning. Last year we stayed in Saratoga Springs at one of the nicest Hampton Inn and Suites properties I have visited so we were happy to repeat the same routine en route to the Big Apple for our most recent trip.

Saratoga (www.discoversaratoga.com) is home to exciting nightlife, chic boutiques, great events and much more! Of course, the Saratoga Race Course is a big draw each summer. Sports Illustrated has named it one of the top 10 sports venues of the 20th century, right up there with Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and others. Horses and thoroughbred horse racing in Saratoga represents a big draw for the tourist trade in season. Saratoga’s 2015 racing season begins on Friday, July 24 and runs for 40 days, through Labor Day, Monday, September 7. There are dark Tuesdays. Post times are 1 p.m. daily except for Twilight Friday. The Hats Off Festival is July 24 to 26. A full schedule, with Stakes races, can be found here www.nyra.com/index_saratoga.html.

summer-at-the-historic-saratoga-race-course

There is also Saratoga Polo, horse and carriage rides, video gaming and a chance to visit the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame! Also consider checking out the spring Farmer’s Market, arts and jazz events and the ever-popular mid-winter ChowderFest.

The Saratoga area offers some great shopping, including the historic downtown Saratoga Springs shopping district with boutiques and quaint shops tucked among trendy eateries and cafes. A few miles away is a large collection of malls, big box stores and restaurants near Exit 15 of the Northway, providing the area with one of the largest and most concentrated shopping districts north of Albany. Rounding out the Saratoga shopping opportunities are a collection of brand name outlet malls in Lake George, just a short drive north on I-87. We like going to the Wilton Mall (www.wiltonmall.com), which has JC Penney and Bonton as its anchors.

Nestled in Upstate New York, just about three hours from Montreal, New York City, Boston and Philadelphia and just off Interstate 87, Saratoga is centrally located between the Adirondack Park just to the north, and the bustling Albany New York Capital District to the south.

Saratoga is recognized as a center for arts and culture. The Arts Center, at 320 Broadway in historic downtown Saratoga Springs, is the home for arts education for all ages; an art gallery; a gift shop, a resource room overlooking Congress Park with art-related information; and a performance space for film, music, theatre and much more. The National Museum of Dance is located here, as is the renowned Tang Museum at Skidmore College. The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) hosts a number of distinguished music and dance venues along with pop culture concerts.

There are more restaurants here per capita than any place in the United States! Coffee houses, French bistros, Jazz clubs, classic American cuisine, Italian, Mexican, Indian, sports bars, seafood and steakhouses are just a sampling of over 100 hundred popular restaurants and night spots in the Saratoga area. We happened to like Ruby Tuesday’s, but the franchise here went bust so settled for Denny’s.

WHERE TO STAY: Our previous one night stop at the Hampton Inn and Suites (www.saratogaspringssuites.hamptoninn.com) at 25 Lake Avenue was such a pleasant experience, this was in fact an incentive to stay over here again. Having opened just over six years ago, it is part of the Turf Hotels group. The first thing you will notice is the majestic entrance. Upon checking in your room key grants you entrance to free covered parking on a multi-level garage. There are 123 guest rooms and suites featuring king-or queen-sized beds. Some suites have spacious balconies and separate living rooms with sofa beds. We booked the latter and were pleasantly surprised by how extraordinarily large the unit was. I particularly liked the ultra-comfortable chairs in front of the two TVs.

lobby  saratoga

You can connect to free high-speed internet access to surf the web, get some work done at the desk or set up your laptop on the convenient lap desk to work from the comfort of the clean and fresh Hampton bed. Amenities such as a mini-refrigerator, microwave and 32-inch HDTV with premium cable television make you feel at home. You can also take advantage of a free hot breakfast. There is a gym, fitness centre, a nice pool and a Jacuzzi. Assistant General Manager Dan Duvernay says summer weekend stays are booked a year in advance.

This is not only a great place to stay when visiting Saratoga or looking for a one night stay, but as a base to travel to and from Lake George or Albany as you as smack in the middle of both. The hotel is in fact 30 minutes from Albany International Airport and minutes away from attractions. The Adirondack Mountains offer diverse outdoor recreation. You can go white-water rafting, boating and fishing at Lake George, explore a cave, drive along the historic Mohican Trail or ride a train through the winter landscape, enjoy family fun at Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom Six Flags. Also check out see the battlefield, the restored Schuyler House, and the Saratoga Monument.

ACCESSIBILITY:
The hotel has an accessible business center, concierge desk, exercise facility, hotel restaurant, parking spaces for cars in the self-parking facility, public entrance and registration desk. There are accessible guest rooms with mobility features, featuring entry or passage doors that provide 32 inches of clear width. There are assistive listening devices for meetings upon request and closed captioning on televisions or closed captioning decoders. Service support animals are welcome. There is also van-accessible parking in the self-parking facility.

Albany: NY D&B

For us, fabulous shopping at the Crossgates Mall and the Colonie Center always served as incentives to spend some time in the New York Capital City of Albany (http://www.albanyny.org/Visitors.aspx). Now we can add the closest Dave & Busters and Cheesecake Factory locations to our home to the list.

Dave & Buster’s (www.daveandbusters.com) is recognized as America’s leading venue that combines dining and entertainment. The 33,000 square foot restaurant and game room location in Albany opened on August 24, 2013 at the Crossgates Mall and it has served as a magnet for visitors ever since. My family has enjoyed visiting the Toronto locale, but when we heard the franchise had set up shop in Albany it did indeed serve as an incentive for us to stay over on our way back from New York City.

The company itself was founded in 1982 to provide a high-quality, high-energy venue where families and adults can “Eat Drink Play®” all in one location. Currently, Dave & Buster’s is the largest national chain offering a full casual dining menu and a wide selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages together with an extensive assortment of entertainment attractions, including skill- and sports-oriented games, video games, interactive simulators and other traditional games.

The restaurant, game and special event areas are open seven days a week Sunday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to midnight and Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Dave & Buster’s chef-crafted menus combine fun and flavor as well. Popular items include Black Jack Burgers, Baked Chicken and Shrimp Alfredo, Bacon Wrapped Beef Medallions & Grilled Shrimp and the very popular adult signature cocktails including Snow cones, Walk the Plank and Million Dollar Margarita. The restaurant has special menus for children and people with allergies. There is a special eat and play option. When choosing selected items you can add $10 or $20 power cards to your order, which represents an immediate saving when you hit the games area. The legendary goldfingers, crispy chicken strips served with fries, work well with the eat and play option. Our party also shared the tasty pretzel dogs (meaty all-beef franks wrapped in sweet pretzel dough, fresh baked and served with spicy habanero dipping sauce) and my personal favorite, the four bar burgers (sliders) and wings platter. We switched the fries for the superb mashed potatoes.

Popular new games at D&B include Temple Run, Cut the Rope, Dark Escape, Dream Raiders, Harpoon Lagoon, Dizzy Chicken and Milk Jug Toss. Guests can play to win tickets in the arcade for a variety of prizes, including iPods, Nintendo games, grills, sports items, stuffed animals and even an electric guitar. Traditional games like bowling, shuffleboard and billiards are combined with newer games such as Derby Owners Club-World Edition, Fruit Ninja, Guitar Hero, Dance Revolution and Big Bass Wheel. We favor Deal or No Deal, skee ball, air hockey, floppy tickets and the different slot machine-like games which give you a bit of a Las Vegas feeling.

D&B spin

More than two dozen large-screen, high-definition televisions provide the perfect backdrop for everyone’s favorite college sporting events and professional games. The Albany location is also available for private parties, birthdays and corporate functions. Structured team building activities, company challenges and the ultimate quest are popular programs to help build corporate camaraderie. We had a great time and consider the arrival of a D&B here enough for us to stay an additional evening next time we visit. The locale is fully wheelchair accessible, with access from inside the mall and curbside.

D&Bwinners

You can call them directly at 518-313-4500.

CHEESECAKE FACTORY: There is no question that Cheesecake Factory ranks as one of my favorite restaurants in the USA. The Albany location opened on August 29, 2006 at the Colonie Centre. This 10,800 square foot locale seats 300 diners. “Albany was the 113th location to open,” General Manager David Albert told me. “We have 184 locations now and this year The Cheesecake Factory made the Forbes 100 best places to work also.”

CheesecakeDisplay

The Cheesecake Factory (www.thecheesecakefactory.com) is known for its extensive menu, generous portions and legendary desserts. In fact, there are more than 250 menu selections and this includes more than 50 lower calorie “SkinnyLicious®” selections- all handmade, in-house with fresh ingredients – and more than 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts. Favorite choices include appetizers, pizza, seafood, steaks, chicken, burgers, pasta, specialty items, salads, sandwiches, omelets and the desserts.

We have always appreciated the excellent service at the Albany location. This is the closest Cheesecake Factory to Montreal and I know many people who stop here on purpose just to enjoy the experience. If you do not study the menu online before you arrive, then you will need some time to look it over before ordering. It is so well balanced that if you are here for more than a few nights you can come back for several days and have something completely different. We started off by sharing the Thai Lettuce Wraps while one member of our party also had Caesar Salad. While the Southern Fried Chicken Sliders are listed as an “appetizer,” they more than serve as a hearty meal. We appreciate the SkinnyLicious offerings, especially the turkey burgers. I tried something new, the Herb Crusted Filet of Salmon, with mashed potatoes. It was truly out of this world.

This Cheesecake Factory is a real winner and I highly recommend you stop by. You can call them directly at 518-453-2500. There is a large Barnes & Noble bookstore in the mall, a great pre or post dining stop.

SHOPPING AND OTHER ATTRACTIONS: Shopping in Albany, the capital of the State of New York, has always been a joy for my family. Crossgates Mall and the smaller, but equally impressive Colonie Center, can keep you busy for a couple of days.

Albany has attracted visitors for 400 years with historic sites, fabulous attractions, family-friendly amenities, and entertaining events. World-class museums, unique galleries, stunning architecture, those enticing restaurants, and welcoming accommodations can indeed keep you busy for days. Enjoy everything from boating to skiing and biking to snow-shoeing. Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region. Within a short ride are neighboring Cooperstown and Saratoga Springs.

Be sure to check out the Million Dollar Staircase, the awe inspiring “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza and many diverse examples of historic house sites and public spaces such as the Pruyn House and the first Shaker Meeting House. You can visit the magnificent Gothic structure, now the Administrative Center of the State University of New York, the Delaware and Hudson, and the Albany Evening Journal Buildings, located at the base of State Street.

There is an abundance of professional theatre, music, dance, sports, and a backyard full of recreational splendors. As the crossroads of the northeast, Albany is easily accessible by car, train, and plane and is located less than three hours from New York and Boston. I have also heard very good things about the Albany Aqua Ducks & Trolleys (www.albanyaquaducks.com), an amphibious tour and trolley tour company featuring historic tours of Albany. The Ducks offer unique, educational and fun-filled tours. You can see the historic sites and then Splash into the Hudson River for a mariner’s view of the city’s skyline and others who call the Hudson “home” including the USS Slater and Dutch Apple Cruises. The Trolleys operate a seasonal Trolley loop tour and are available year round for charters and events. The Ducks and Trolleys are available for parades, festivals, family reunions, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate events or any special occasion that needs to be “Just Ducky!”

The Crossgates Mall is home to 250 stores, restaurants and kiosks, including big box tenants Macys, Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods, JC Penney and now Lord & Taylor.

The vast majority of entrances are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout the site. You can rent a wheelchair at the information desk near the Macys entrance.

ACCOMMODATIONS: When in Albany we enjoy staying at the Cresthill Suites (www.cresthillsuites.com), an extended stay hotel located at 1415 Washington Avenue. It turned out to be most convenient for us. There are large Hannaford’s and Price Chopper grocery stores nearby, as well as plenty of restaurants, the Crossgates Mall, the Colonie Center and two movie theatre complexes. Cresthill is in fact part of a small chain, with other locales in Syracuse, NY and Wichita, Kansas. It recently came under the auspices of a new management company, which is already sprucing the place up. There is new lighting in the main lobby and dining area, rooms have been freshly painted and new flooring installed in the kitchens and bathrooms. There is no smoking permitted in any rooms and pets are no longer permitted. Sofa beds in each room have been upgraded.

TravelAlbany Hotelcorrected2bed

I would strongly recommend this place for families. Our spacious two bedroom suite had all of the comforts of home, including a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge and appliances and free wireless internet. We had a comfortable living room, with a couch, chair, table and chairs, three flat screen TVs and plenty of cupboard space. Whether you’re staying for a night or a month in any one of these suites, the hotel offers an array of services to accommodate your travel needs. In the morning, you can enjoy a complimentary breakfast, and in the evening, a light fare reception and social hour is available every Monday through Thursday. The quality of food has been enhanced as well, with a variety of homemade meal choices such as grilled chicken, chicken Parmesan and different Italian specialties.

There is daily housekeeping, same-day valet service, a grocery shopping service, free guest laundry, a fully equipped fitness center and a seasonal courtyard with a pool, patio and grills. The property has a regular clientele who stay there for long periods of time, be it people working on big projects in town and in construction, those relocating, fire victims and of course vacationers who want to enjoy all of the comforts of home. The hotel has a number of handicapped accessible rooms and handicapped parking spots at the front door. There is elevator access to each floor and level crossings in the hallways.

I found the staff at the front desk exceptionally helpful. While the room was very comfy, I also enjoyed spending time in the large lobby area and sinking into the big sofa in front of a TV. A self service coffee, tea and hot chocolate is available 24 hours a day. For more information call 1.888.723.1655 or email info@cresthillsuites.com. You can also register online.

AT THE MOVIES: The Albany area has some wonderful movie theatre complexes, each operated by the Regal Entertainment Group (www.regmovies.com). We have a particular fondness towards the Regal Colonie Center Stadium 13. This six year old movie complex encompasses around 64,000 square feet, with more than 2,800 seats in a total of 13 auditoriums. It is right next to two of my favorite restaurants, PF Chang`s China Bistro and the Cheesecake Factory and a huge Barnes &Noble. The seats at this theatre are very comfortable as they swivel. We actually stopped by the evening before our show to pick up tickets in advance. You can also purchase them online at fandango.com.

Once in the theatre we were entertained by a feature called First Look, which included previews of upcoming film releases, a special Disney feature of homemade short movies and a series of very amusing commercials. You can also log on to www.fandango.com and purchase your tickets online.

Hearing impaired devices are available upon request and the complex is very wheelchair friendly, with elevators at every level, ramps in each theatre and handicapped seating.

Paris: France

Exactly 28 years after my last visit to Paris, I recently soaked up the experience again of the French capital with all it has to offer. We began planning for this trip to the City of Lights seven months earlier by booking flights and hotels. That was followed by the rigorous process of trying to fit an endless array of activities into only seven full days. Websites like http://en.parisinfo.com/discovering-paris and www.rendezvousenfrance.com, which via its Atout France French government Tourism Office in Montreal, served as a big help. So was any human being I knew who has ever been there.

EiffelTower alllit M.CHAZEAU

I am providing a guide of the itinerary we followed so that hopefully it will save many travelers the endless hours of research we put it in. When you are in Paris for a week, you cannot do everything so one must prioritize when planning and be prepared to drop some intended activities if necessary.

WHERE TO STAY: Seven months before we even left for France, we began the challenging task of looking for a hotel. Upon recommendations from friends we targeted Les Jardins du Marais (www.lesjardinsdumarais.com). Located only blocks away from the famous Marais district, this beautiful hotel has 263 rooms and suites, an intimate restaurant and bar and excellent customer service. Hats off to front office manager Nady Hatem and his team.

lesjardinsRoom

This is part of the Preferred Hotel Group (www.preferredhotelgroup.com), which if you check out their website you will see has quite a nice collection to choose from around the world. Our package included a beautiful and spacious deluxe suite. It had a king size bed with a solid sliding door leading to a living room and a most comfortable sofa bed. We had an extra sink, a hairdryer, a microwave oven, a minibar/fridge, a dishwasher, a pantry cabinet, a stovetop burner, a working desk, a small table and very comfortable chair.

The story of this hotel all began in 1987 when the owner was wandering through the oldest part of the city and discovered a little alleyway surrounded by buildings and studios home to famous sculptors and artists in the 1960s. He was instantly captivated by the place’s quaint ambiance and 18th and 19th century historic landmark exteriors. And so was hatched a wild idea to turn this magical place into a charming hotel so thousands of guests could enjoy the same dream.

From Mitterrand and Sarkozy to Jerry Lewis and Johnny Hallyday, countless celebrities have since joined other tourists who are mad about Paris and revelled in the setting steeped in history that has been transformed with a modern and sumptuous touch into a glamorous trendy spot that is above all oh-so Parisian. Originally opened as the Home Plazza Bastille, this exclusive site was fully renovated in 2004, earned its fourth Michelin star and became Les Jardins du Marais.

Les Jardins du Marais has been branded a “Great hotel of the world” and become a one-of-a-kind lifestyle hotel. Carefully shaping the hotel’s destiny, the general managers wanted to give the hotel back its radiance and contemporary flair. They decided to breathe new life into this exceptional locale in the Marais district by bringing their love for contemporary art into the hotel.  Your eyes will be astounded before you even reach the lobby. When you open the historic carriage doors to a mind-blowing display you will see the largest open-air hotel gardens in Paris. The lobby extends to reveal a dramatic 1,500 square metre backdrop of courtyards and gardens. You can only reach this exclusive and exotic locale after crossing the extremely secluded threshold of 74 Rue Amelot.

hotel courtyard

Nestled in the heart of Paris, the hotel transcends you through time the moment you step inside. Innovative use of space and light tricks create an extraordinary setting that approaches intimate sophistication – this is the opposite of flashy opulence. Gardens reminiscent of the Mediterranean and outdoor lounges ringed with palm trees genuinely entice you to relax, enjoy the change of pace and the brief sensation of being in more exotic climes. The hotel further delights its guests with a collection of contemporary art.
The gardens are encircled by seven historic buildings with the 263 rooms. They include 86 Superior rooms and 120 Executive rooms that offer guests unparalleled tranquility in the middle of Paris.

In the über-hip Marais district, from shops and restaurants to museums and monuments, you are at the footsteps of Paris all its splendour. A stone’s throw from Place des Vosges and the Bastille Opera, the hotel is perfectly located near trendy spots, leisurely activities and tourist attractions.
The Saint Sébastien Froissart station on Line 8 of the metro is two minutes on foot from the hotel and it will lead you to any place you wish to go. There is also a direct connection to the Paris airports on the RER B and you are only 15 minutes away from Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est on metro line 5. A private car service is available for guests as well. They will also order a mini-van to bring you to the airport.

Free Wi-fi is available in all rooms and common areas. There is a workout room and even in-room massages upon request. Just a short walk from the front desk is a Carrefour grocery store.
Email: info@homeplazza.com.

THE MARAIS: Long the aristocratic district of Paris, the Marais hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance. It spreads across parts of the third and fourth arrondissements in Paris. At the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th, the district around the rue des Rosiers, referred to as the “Pletzl,” welcomed many Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazi) who reinforced the district’s clothing specialization. But, during World War II, the Jewish community was targeted by the Nazis who were occupying France. The rue des Rosiers is still a major centre of the Paris Jewish community, which has made a renewal since the 1990s. Public notices announce Jewish events, bookshops specialize in Jewish books, and numerous restaurants and other outlets sell kosher food. We took a walk there and saw a very lively area. The synagogue on 10 rue Pavée is not far from rue des Rosiers. It was designed in 1913 by Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard, who designed several Paris Metro stations.

THE PARIS METRO: Considered a leading tourist attraction in its own right, the Paris Metro system is absolutely superb and so easy to navigate. I must admit that I was intimidated by the prospect of getting around the city before I left, but there is no need here to take taxis. Almost every square block you walk there seems to be a station. They are kept clean and you feel safe because of the large crowds, even late at night.

The first line of the underground subway system (still called Line 1) began operation in 1900 and today the Paris Metro has grown to include 14 lines that connect Paris via its subterranean tunnels. With over 300 stations, it’s easy to travel anywhere within the city limits.

Make sure to purchase a Paris Metro Pass, something you use at the turn styles to gain entrance to the metro or the buses. It begins its validity the first time you use it, then works for the next consecutive one, two, three or five days after that. All you choose is the validity period and the zones in which you would like to travel!

BATEAUX MOUCHES:
For our first night in Paris, we opted to experience the Bateaux-Mouches (http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en). Their fleet of nine boats are all enclosed in glass and bathed in light to cast off and accompany you on a journey through time. There are daily departures throughout the day and in the evening. You can choose the dinner or simple tour options. We chose the latter and did so on a gorgeous evening. The experience allowed us to discover all of the magic of the banks of the River Seine, which are enhanced, in no predictable order, by the most prestigious monuments which have marked history.

BIG BUS TOUR: In the first day or two of your trip be sure to proceed to get tickets for the famous hop-on, hop-off bus tours (http://eng.bigbustours.com/paris/home.html), operated by the Cars Rouges. This allows you to explore the city’s top tourist attractions at your own pace. From the breath-taking heights of the Eiffel Tower to the historic grounds of Le Louvre, no visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the city’s sights by bus and via the two day package we chose. The Big Bus sightseeing tour took us to iconic buildings such as Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe. We also discovered a myriad of other historic sites, which could easily be a centrepiece in any other city. There was ornate, elegant architecture at every turn, but what we found most impressive was the way striking landmarks were connected and aligned through wide boulevards and open spaces, delivering some magnificent views. Throughout the ticket validity period, you can hop-on and off the buses at any of the Big Bus stops. A third of their fleet has wheelchair access on the lower deck, and they try to run these vehicles evenly throughout the service. It is best to buy your tickets online, but you Can also do so on site at any bus stop from a uniformed agent.

NOTRE DAME: Notre-Dame de Paris (http://www.notredamedeparis.fr/-English), a masterpiece of faith, art and history, is the cathedral of the Catholic archdiocese of Paris. It is one of the best-known symbols of the French capital, and the most-visited monument in France, ahead of the Eiffel Tower. The cathedral is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and attracts 13 million believers, pilgrims and visitors each year. It is stage to major celebrations for the diocese and the French republic. Access to the cathedral is open and free of charge every day of the year, during the opening hours. Parts of the cathedral are accessible to reduced-mobility individuals: the nave, side aisles and transept, more than two-thirds of the building. There are three steps to access the choir and the Treasury. There is a small step at the entrance portals to access the main floor.

ARC DE TRIOMPHE: Located at one end of Paris’s most famous avenue, the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe Paris (http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com) triumphal arch is older than the Eiffel Tower, but is somewhat new in the tradition of building arches to celebrate victories. The Romans did it much earlier. In fact, the Arch of Titus had inspired Napoleon to build this 19th-century tribute to his “Grande Armee.” The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added in 1921. The ‘eternal flame’ is re-lit every evening at 6:30 p.m. You can admire the arch from below at the ground level – either on foot while you’re window-shopping on the Champs Elysees – or by automobile if you’re lucky enough to get caught in the swirl of traffic that plays dodge around its base. If you choose not to brave the crowds visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe is a great alternative. It’s also less expensive if you’re traveling with students or children. Kids and teenagers, age 17 and younger get free admission. The top can only be reached by climbing up its 40 stairs. But before you get to the stairs, you have to get to the monument itself (which isn’t as simple as you’d think). Do not try crossing the traffic circle. There is an underground tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the circle. You can access this tunnel from the Wagram exit of the Metro. This structure was built between 1806 and 1836. Even though there were many modifications from the original plans, reflecting political changes and power struggles, the Arch still retains the essence of the original concept which was a powerful, unified ensemble. The Arc de Triomphe stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the “Place de l’Étoile.” It is located at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The arches whole decorative style is entirely of the tradition of sculpture from the first half of the nineteenth century. The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Centre des monuments nationaux has almost 100 historical monuments all over France open to the public. Its properties include Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, Château of Azay-le-Rideau, Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle, Pantheon and Abbey of Thoronet. The diversity of sites, from abbeys to châteaux, prehistoric caves, and archaeological sites, and more, is testimony to France’s incredibly rich heritage from all eras. With nine million visitors, 400 events per year, the Centre des monuments nationaux is a unique operator in the cultural tourism sector. Log on to www.tourisme.monuments-nationaux.fr/en.

THE WORLD FAMOUS OPERA HOUSE: Everyone told me not to leave Paris without at least taking a tour of the Palais Garnier (http://visitepalaisgarnier.fr), a magnificent 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally called the Salle des Capucines because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier in recognition of its opulence and its architect, Charles Garnier. We visited on a Saturday afternoon. The cost is 10 and six Euros for adults and children/students respectively. You can also rent an audio guide, which comes on an Ipad and is good for two people. We were mesmerized by what we saw. This is said to be the most famous opera house in the world, partly due I am told to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera and, of course its subsequent adaptations in films and musical stage productions. This facility also houses the Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera Library-Museum). Although the Library-Museum is no longer managed by the Opera and is part of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the museum is included in unaccompanied tours of the Palais Garnier.

garnierceiling

THE LOUVRE: The Louvre Museum, a former residence of the kings of France, has for two centuries been one of the biggest museums in the world. Its collections are spread over eight departments: Near Eastern Antiquities, Islamic Art, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Paintings, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, and Prints and Drawings dating from the Middle Ages to 1848. The Louvre in figures: 35,000 works of art in 60,600 square metres of rooms devoted to permanent collections, with 2,410 windows, 3,000 locks and 10,000 steps.
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Wednesdays and Fridays you can go until 9:45 p.m. This place is gigantic and takes a long time to visit. It is best to do your research first so you have a game plan.

The museum collections are grouped into eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Islamic Art; Paintings; Sculptures; Decorative Arts; and Prints and Drawings.

On their first visit to the Louvre, people often want to see the museum’s three great ladies — the Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, and Mona Lisa.

LouvreMonaLisaVinci_La Joconde
The Louvre is universal both in terms of the wealth of its collections and the great diversity of its visitors. Of the nearly 10 million people who visited the Louvre in 2012, 69 percent were of overseas origin, with 15 percent from the United States of America, seven percent from China, and six percent from Brazil. To adapt to the diverse nature of this public, the Louvre continually strives for greater accessibility. To this end, its initiatives include the progressive widespread use of labeling in two or even three languages to describe the 38,000 artworks exhibited; the revamped numbering of exhibition rooms; the development of a new, more user-friendly floor plan; and the fostering of art education. In addition, the Louvre website (www.louvre.fr/en) offers various visitor tips on planning a visit, gaining in-depth knowledge, and teaching art history to children.

More than 2,100 people, including 166 curatorial staff and 1,200 security officers, work on a daily basis in service of the collections and visitor reception. In addition, there are many external players (including technical maintenance, external monitoring, laboratories, conservation professionals, and cultural contributors). Furthermore, the Louvre has thoroughly modernized its financing methods and developed its own resources. In 2009, the museum created an “endowment fund” styled on English and American models, to finance its long-term projects. In 2012, the Musée du Louvre revenue amounted to 216 million euros, 116 million euros of which were state subsidies (54 percent) and 100 million euros self-funded. These self-funded resources can be broken down as follows: 58 million euros from ticket sales, 16 million euros from sponsors, and 15 million through the enhanced visibility and profitability of the Louvre offering as a whole.
The Louvre also manages the Musée Eugène Delacroix (as of January 1, 2004) and the Tuileries garden (as of January 1, 2005). Over the years, the Louvre has remained true to its missions of promoting encounters between art collections and the public. More than just a meeting place, it is now clearly a forum for sharing, open and generous, where the exceptional is accessible to all. You can pre-search the entire collection online, including the famous Mona Lisa. This portrait was doubtless painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506. It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo – hence the alternative title, La Gioconda. However, Leonardo seems to have taken the completed portrait to France rather than giving it to the person who commissioned it. It was eventually returned to Italy by Leonardo’s student and heir Salai. It is not known how the painting came to be in François I’s collection.

The history of the Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery. Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo worked on the painting, how long he kept it, and how it came to be in the French royal collection.

The portrait may have been painted to mark one of two events – either when Francesco del Giocondo and his wife bought their own house in 1503, or when their second son, Andrea, was born in December 1502 after the death of a daughter in 1499. The delicate dark veil that covers Mona Lisa’s hair is sometimes considered a mourning veil. In fact, such veils were commonly worn as a mark of virtue. Her clothing is unremarkable. Neither the yellow sleeves of her gown, nor her pleated gown, nor the scarf delicately draped round her shoulders are signs of aristocratic status.
The Mona Lisa is the earliest Italian portrait to focus so closely on the sitter in a half-length portrait. The painting is generous enough in its dimensions to include the arms and hands without them touching the frame. The portrait is painted to a realistic scale in the highly structured space where it has the fullness of volume of a sculpture in the round. The figure is shown in half-length, from the head to the waist, sitting in a chair whose arm is resting on balusters. She is resting her left arm on the arm of the chair, which is placed in front of a loggia, suggested by the parapet behind her and the two fragmentary columns framing the figure and forming a “window” looking out over the landscape. The perfection of this new artistic formula explains its immediate influence on Florentine and Lombard art of the early 16th century. Such aspects of the work as the three-quarter view of a figure against a landscape, the architectural setting, and the hands joined in the foreground were already extant in Flemish portraiture of the second half of the 15th century, particularly in the works of Hans Memling. However, the spacial coherence, the atmospheric illusionism, the monumentality, and the sheer equilibrium of the work were all new. In fact, these aspects were also new to Leonardo’s work, as none of his earlier portraits display such controlled majesty.

The Mona Lisa’s famous smile represents the sitter in the same way that the juniper branches represent Ginevra Benci and the ermine represents Cecilia Gallerani in their portraits, in Washington and Krakow respectively. It is a visual representation of the idea of happiness suggested by the word “gioconda” in Italian. Leonardo made this notion of happiness the central motif of the portrait: it is this notion which makes the work such an ideal. The nature of the landscape also plays a role. The middle distance, on the same level as the sitter’s chest, is in warm colors. Men live in this space: there is a winding road and a bridge.

There is free and priority access for disabled individuals and an accompanying person upon presentation of written proof. For the visually impaired, there are touch and descriptive tours, information in Braille and audio guides. The Touch Gallery is designed for the blind and sight impaired. It allows all visitors to share a touch perception experience. You will discover 18 moulds of Antiquity art work from the 19th century, giving you an idea of the different ways childhood was represented over the centuries. For the hearing impaired, tours in French sign language, lip reading or cued speech are offered.

For more information about adapted activities in the Louvre as well as an accessibility guide, visit http://www.louvre.fr/accessibilite. The contact number for disabled visitors is +33 (0)1 40 20 59 90. You can email: handicap@louvre.fr

MUSEE D’ORSAY: Internationally renowned for its rich collection of impressionist art, the Musée d’Orsay (http://www.musee-orsay.fr) also displays all western artistic creations between 1848 and 1914. Its collections represent all expressive forms, from painting to architecture, not forgetting sculpting, decorative arts and photography. You’re sure to be dazzled by the beauty of the place: a palace-like station, launched for the 1900 Universal Exposition. At the end of 2011, the museum reopened all of its entirely renovated spaces as well as some new rooms: an additional 400 square meters for the Pavillon Amont, post-impressionist artists at the heart of the museum, the restructuring of the Galerie des Impressionnistes, a new space for temporary exhibitions, and a new aquatic decor in the Café des Hauteurs, designed by Brazilian designers, the Campana Brothers. The museum is open every day but Monday. You can check out a 90 minute guided tour for those aged 13 and up. We rented three Ipods for five Euros each. Through a very simple system one needs only to punch in the number of selected paintings and an interesting commentary will be provided.

There is free entry for disabled people and an accompanying person on presentation of written proof. Adapted activities and workshops take place and wheelchairs can be loaned. There is priority access without queues at entrance C. The museum is entirely accessible and the auditorium designed to welcome up to three people in wheelchairs. For the visually impaired, guide and assistance dogs are allowed around the collections in the museum and exhibitions. The museum does not have tactile walk ways All year round, there are visits available in sign language and the auditorium is equipped with a hearing loop.

Bookings can be made at http://www.musee-orsay.fr/fr/espace-particuliers/particuliers/visiteurs-handicapes/bienvenue.html and by calling + 33 (0) 1 40 49 48 14

When we visited, the Carpeaux exhibition was on. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was the son of a stonemason and a lace maker from Valencienne. He built an exceptional career closely linked to the “fête impériale” of Napoleon III’s reign. Standing out vividly in the artistic milieu of his time, he was also one of the most perfect embodiments of the Romantic idea of the artist cursed by the brevity and brilliance of his career, concentrated into around 15 years, and by the violence and the passion of an unrelenting struggle with subjects chosen or commissioned (the Pavillon de Flore in the Louvre, The Dance for Charles Garnier’s Opera). The sculptor of smiling subjects, painter of movement, outstanding portraitist, familiar artist of the Cour des Tuileries, attentive observer of the realities of street life and also a sensitive admirer of Michelangelo, Carpeaux was constantly immersed in sombre melancholy, using broad brushstrokes from his earliest days, for the tragedy of Ugolin eating his own children, and, later, for the ghostly flashes of a religious feeling imbued with anxiety, the violence of shipwreck scenes and for sorrowful self-portraits.

The first retrospective since 1975 devoted to his works as a sculptor, painter and illustrator, this exhibition will explore the varied work of a major figure of French sculpture in the second half of the 19th century who, according to Alexandre Dumas, was “more alive than life itself”.

MOULIN ROUGE: I did go to the Moulin Rouge (www.moulinrouge.fr) 28 years earlier and there was no question that a return trip was in order. Established in 1889, the Moulin Rouge is quite simply the most famous cabaret in the world! Located in the Monmarte District, it was immortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec and was the cradle of the music hall with the famous Mistinguett. Since it opened in 1889, it has dazzled the whole world. The room is magnificently decorated in belle époque style and red velvet, with typical burlesque frescoes. This is a wonderful place to enjoy gourmet French food by the Maison Dalloyau, served with champagne – the official drink of the cabaret. But show only options are also available and that is what we opted. We did get a fresh bottle of bubbly to our table upon arrival. And what show! This is a “can’t miss” stop for any Paris visitor. You will be entertained by a troupe of 80 artists, including 60 Doriss Girls recruited world-wide; 1, 000 costumes of feathers, rhinestones and sequins, made in the most famous Parisian workshops; sumptuous sets in shimmering colours, uniquely designed by Italian artists; and outstanding international acts. On the night we were in attendance, a male and female acrobatic team astounded the audience and there was also the most marvelous and humorous ventriloquist. When one of the dancers dropped into a swimming pool which emerged from the floor and began to swim with snakes, the packed room applauded loudly. This revue, called “Féerie,” is performed twice a night.

Moulin Rouge Fac¦ºade nuit -®Moulin Rouge-« - S.Bertrand

Elegant attire is required (tie and jacket not necessary), but no shorts, short-pants, sport shoes or sportswear. The dinner and show package starts at 7 p.m.: the first show at 9 and the second at 11. It is recommended your arrive around 30 minutes prior. When we departed, there was a massive line to get in for the second presentation.
The Moulin Rouge’s Brigade consists of 120 maître-d, headwaiters and waiters. The legendary hall accommodates up to 900 guests. A team of 25 cooks prepare the meals while champagne is the official drink, with 240 000 bottles opened a year!

THE KOFF DINING OPTION IN MONMARTE: I must have spent hours looking for just the right restaurant to “sandwich” in before the Moulin Rouge and the Koff Delicattessen (www.koff-paris.fr) at 15 Rue la Vieuville won out.

Koffoutsiide2

I would strongly recommend Koff. The husband and wife team of David and Jade designed this place like a New York deli. The menu features bagels, burgers, quesadillas, nachos, sandwiches, smoked salmon, Ashkenazi specialties, Russian dishes and a nice variety of salads. It is open for lunch and dinner. The Sunday brunch includes coffee or tea, orange juice, muffins, scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage and smoked salmon. I must say that I very much enjoyed the pastrami club sandwich, accompanied by delicious hash browns. Friendly servers Matlilda and Marvin offered us their homemade cheesecake or banoffee pie for dessert, but we were full form the main course. Koff is just one minute’s walk from Abbesses métro station (line 12). The décor here is very American, in terms of canvases, signs, metallic advertisement placards and other paraphernalia. Each of the chairs represent an iconic American figure (real or fictional) staring back from the seat such as Bugs Bunny, Batman or Marilyn Monroe. There are even some kosher items on the menu, identified with a big “K.”

BREAKFAST IN AMERICA: Here is one more unique restaurant you will want to try. First off, Breakfast in America (http://www.breakfast-in-america.com) does not take reservations. There are two locations: in the heart of the historic Latin Quarter, not far from the Sorbonne and Notre Dame and in the Marais district, near rue des Rosiers, the famous Jewish quarter. It is owned not surprisingly by an American, Craig Carlson. We experienced the Marais locale known as BIA2, with charming manager Julien Chameroy and floor manager Sarah-Rose Giudici (from Chicago).

BIA2

Originally from Connecticut, Carlson first came to France as a student and instantly fell in love with the country. It was in Paris — thanks to the numerous art house cinemas — that he developed his love for film and decided to pursue it as a career. After attending USC film school in Los Angeles, he worked as a screenwriter and short filmmaker and then landed a job in Paris working on a TV show. During this time, the only thing he missed while living in Paris was a good ol’ American breakfast. Realizing the only thing the French knew of American cuisine was fast food, Craig became convinced that the time was right for an authentic American diner in Paris.

After nearly two years in the making, BIA finally opened its doors in January 2003 (BIA 2 opened in February 2006). Thanks to his friends in the film industry who came on as investors, Craig was able to bring together two of his loves under one roof – the cinema and diners. Some of BIA’s supporters include the director of the film “Runaway Jury,” (starring Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman), the writer of “Con Air”, a director of “Friends”, the director of “Invincible” (starring Mark Wahlberg) and French animators working at Dreamworks Studios in California. All of them can’t wait to find an excuse to come to Paris where they know a steamin’ stack of pancakes and a bottomless mug o’ joe are always waiting for them…

Breakfast in America is famous for breakfast, but also known for being one of the best places in Paris for burgers! What dishes are the most popular? At BIA, some favorites include: blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, the Connecticut omelet, two by two, locally-baked bagels, their own “BIA Burger” and “Super BIA Burger,” California chicken wrap, vegetarian wrap, home-made chili con carne, club sandwich, cheesecake, real milkshakes and much, much more! There are toasters at each booth.

Another familiar restaurant for North Americans is the Hard Rock Café (http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/paris) at 14 Boulevard Montmarte.
The Hard Rock Cafe Paris offers more than just great food and service. The café is a museum of popular culture, with authentic memorabilia from rock ‘n’ roll legends covering our walls, 21 screens showing videos, and an unbelievable sound system. In our restaurant and famous cocktail bar all is done to give our international clientele an American experience.

The Hard Rock Cafe Paris is centrally located next to the Opera and the Grands Boulevards, not far from famous places such as Musée Grévin, les Etoiles du Rex or the Theathre of Varietes. Hard Rock Cafe Paris offer its guests the finest all-American food and great music. There is also a retail store where you can purchase limited edition and collectible Hard Rock t-Shirts, jackets and souvenirs.

DINING ATOP THE EIFFEL TOWER: On May 15 1889 the Eiffel Tower (www.tour-eiffel.fr) opened its doors to the public, several days after the inauguration of the Universal Exhibition, of which it was the undisputed star and the most spectacular attraction.

Unquestionably the Eiffel Tower represents a “must” on every tourist’s list, notably for its remarkable view over Paris. The opening times vary according to the time of year. It is open every single day of the year, from 9 a.m. to midnight from mid-June to early September and from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. the rest of the year. During Easter weekend and Spring holidays, there are extended opening hours to midnight. The ticket office at the foot of the Eiffel Tower is open every day, but I strongly recommend you purchase your tickets online and do so at least six months in advance if you want to gain immediate entry and go all the way to the top. You can also climb the stairs to the second level, which must be quite the exhausting experience.
Without advance tickets, prepare to face a lineup as long as two hours. The electronic ticket, which you can print out at home or save on your mobile, means that on the date and the time you’ve chosen, you can go straight to the queues for people with tickets. We did not know about this, but found a way to reach the second level quickly and enjoy a memorable dining experience with the view of a lifetime. This was all made possible by securing reservations at The Jules Verne Restaurant (http://www.lejulesverne-paris.com). This is part of the Alain Ducasse culinary empire (http://www.alain-ducasse.com). Not only did we enjoy a five course meal, but we had a private door to enter and exit the viewing platform whenever we wished. Upon arrival at the South Pillar, we gave our names to the host who sent us up on a private elevator 125 metres above. While regular patrons had to wait seemingly endlessly to go back down at the end of the night, we did so in minutes. In order to get the window table we had, one needs to reserve at least three months in advance. We could have bought tickets from there to go to the very top, but frankly take my advice – it is really not worth the long wait.

Jules Verne - Table de nuit (c) Pierre Monetta

There is now a “tasting” menu, allowing you to experience the full Jules Verne sensation. For dinner it is 185 euros for five courses (meat or fish) or 230 euros for six. It takes you on a journey of discovery and surprises, in a voyage of five or six dishes depending on your desires. We chose the former and it included Bellevue Style blue lobster, with gold caviar; preserved duck foie gras; roasted marinated baby artichokes; seared sea bass or free range chicken fricassee; and some delicious desserts. There are a number of servers per table.
In late 2006, SETE, which operates the Eiffel Tower, selected L’Affiche (Groupe Sodexo) and Alain Ducasse Entreprise to modernize the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant services. Champion of the offering, Le Jules Verne was unveiled on December 22, 2007.

Le Jules Verne’s unique location makes it the Parisian venue par excellence. The wine list at Le Jules Verne, created by Gérard Margeon, chef sommelier of Alain Ducasse Restaurants, features a selection of the finest French wines from the country’s greatest regions, with long-standing names sharing the limelight with young winegrowers who symbolize the dynamic nature of contemporary French wine-making. The opening of the “new Jules Verne” was the accomplishment of an incredible adventure. It was also a real challenge due to the highly symbolic nature of the venue, but also for very concrete reasons: space on the second level of the Eiffel Tower is limited, and the weight of all the materials and equipment used had to be monitored with painstaking exactness, not to mention the safety constraints involved. Renovation works also took environmental issues into account, all within a tight 120-day schedule.

The place and name set the tone: the Eiffel Tower, a universally recognized icon, and Jules Verne, the visionary novelist. For someone like Alain Ducasse, who wants his restaurants to tell a story, one couldn’t dream of a better point of departure. They brought in the best experts in the field and their teams rallied together with exceptional enthusiasm.

LIVE MUSICAL THEATRE: I strongly recommend an evening at the Mogador Theatre (http://www.stage-entertainment.fr/theatre-mogador). Founded in 1913, the Mogador is a performance venue of 1,00 seats located a few steps from Paris’s department stores and Palais Garnier Opera House. It has a number of facilities for the comfort of the audience: lounges, foyers, bars, and eating areas. Since 2005, the place has been run by the Stage Entertainment group and the eclectic program favours musicals: The Lion King (1,300,000 spectators), Mamma Mia! (2011 and 2012), Sister Act (2013) and most recently the French version of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et La Bête). We were fortunate to see one of the final shows of the latter’s highly successful nine-month run. First of all, we of course knew the storyline already. However, coming from Montreal we had no trouble understanding the dialogue. I would recommend that every tourist – even those who do not understand French – check out one of their presentations. Chalk it up as a good cultural experience. The theatre itself is lovely and located near a lot of trendy places to eat. Next on the agenda will be Le Bal Des Vampires (http://www.lebaldesvampires.fr) , starting in October For Montrealers who do speak and understand French, it seemed logical for us to seek out a production en Français. Five spaces are reserved for individuals with mobility issues.

LMogador  la BelleetBete

VIATOR TEEN SHOPPING EXPERIENCE: As we were planning this trip it became abundantly clear that a company named Viator (www.viator.com) could really come in handy when booking certain tours and excursions. Their team of travel insiders are obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere folks travel. From Paris to Phuket to Perth, from traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they have something for every kind of traveler. They have been around for 17 years now. From their offices around the globe, a team of travel insiders handpick the best local tour and activity providers. Viator officials pre-vet them all to make sure you always have an exceptional experience.

Over three million people have traveled with Viator and they have opinions you’ll want to hear. With Viator you can get the royal treatment, including behind-the-scenes access, private viewings, VIP tours – with no lines and no crowds! If you want to pre-book your trips at home from a laptop or do so on the go, with Viator you get insider access.

Viator has evolved from its founding in Sydney in 1995 as a technology company building websites for other travel companies, to emerge as the leading insider resource for researching and booking destination activities around the world. At the time when other companies were honing in on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars, Viator focused on an untapped niche in the young online travel market—destination activities—or the “things you do when you get there.” Today, Viator is the industry leader in the tours and activities space, with an unprecedented portfolio of thousands of hand-picked tours and activities, and unmatched relationships with a global network of local tour operators.

Viator is not a paid listing or advertising site nor a simple aggregator. Viator’s team of travel experts around the world has built close relationships with local tour operators over the past 10 plus years. Each operator is pre-vetted for quality and service so only the best and most memorable experiences are featured on the site, and the steady stream of verified customer reviews (500,000 and counting) keeps them honest; providers that don’t meet expected service levels are removed. Through a collection of more than 60 consumer-facing websites, mobile apps and mobile sites, Viator reaches more than nine million travelers a month. Its global affiliate network of more than 2,000 active partners expands the company’s reach to even more travelers through affiliate sites like American Airlines, British Airways, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and AAA.

For the youngest member of our travel party, the Teen Shopping and Fashion Accessories Tour in Paris ended up being the first choice. For girls who are you looking for something that just screams “I got this in Paris,” this is a great choice. Make your best friends green with envy when you arrive home from your trip to Paris with the latest, funkiest fashion. You’ll visit places known only to the savviest Parisian teenagers, and find the hippest French brands on this three-hour shopping tour. It’s no wonder this tour is such a hit with teenagers and moms!

SandraTeenShopping
Sandra Hoyois, from Not A Tourist Destination Tours, leads this Paris shopping tour and shop for fabulous bags (everyday handbags, dressy handbags, funky handbags, backpacks, side packs), terrific shoes (tennis shoes, dressy shoes, flat shoes, heels, boots, sandals) and the greatest jewelry ever (delicate necklaces, unique earrings, funky bracelets, gorgeous rings) in the world’s most stylish city. Noted American actress Angeline Jolie and some of her kids were part of a past tour, during which you discover the favorite leisurewear of thrifty Parisian teenagers on a budget, and attend sample sales where the most fashionable brands sell last year’s collections at discounts of up to 70 percent.

Sandra is qualified to work with teenagers and carries a cell phone at all times. Parents are more than welcome to join the fun of this shopping tour…and usually book the tour for themselves! Our tour began and ended at a centrally located Starbucks Paris café. You can book this online or do it by the telephone via a toll free number. You will then receive a voucher by email, print it out and make sure to reconfirm your booking a few days in advance. Often a smaller number of tour members ensures a more personalized experience.

THE ORIGINAL GRÉVIN: While there has been a Grévin (www.grevin.com) at Montreal`s Eaton Centre since April 2013, this place is the original. In fact, only one other exists in the world – in Prague, Czech Republic. This is a fabulous wax museum, with a specific French feel in terms of many of the actors and historical figures featured. I nonetheless got to pose with the likes of Elton John, Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Cage, Barack Obama and many other familiar faces. Your visits starts off with a unique sound and light show. I am now ready to visit the museum in Montreal. Aurélie Gombert, the communications director in Paris, said that plans call for a new Grévin to open every year or so. I would think that the United States would be next on the list, not to mention places like Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.

GrevinCage

Amidst the crackle of photographers’ flashes, the celebrities in the headlines all meet at the most Parisian of addresses. Discreet atmosphere and evening dress mandatory for a cocktail party with the stars of showbiz, top international singers and the piano at an impromptu jam session, or a relaxed environment to share a friendly glass at the brasserie with the big names of the French cinema industry; the Grevin creates the illusion of an interactive meeting in its new decor. During the visit, a fashion show podium, a dance studio, or a box at the theatre give visitors a unique opportunity to meet their favourite artists and to glimpse the Spirit of Paris.

From the Middle Ages to the 21st Century, with the Renaissance and the Second Empire along the way, the Grevin conjures up the great events of History. Joan of Arc burning at the stake, Louis XIV and his court in Versailles, or the assassination of Henri IV, are some of the all-important historical events that visitors are invited to experience. The 20th Century is shown as a sequence of snapshots, like 3-D photographs; from the first step on the moon to the fall of the Berlin wall, each picture is a part of history. There is an Italian style theatre, constructed in 1900, with a slew of wax figures spread about.

Monaco

THE PRINCIPALITY OF MONACO: When we decided to spend a few days in Nice, friends told us to take the train one night and experience dazzling Monte Carlo in Monaco.

The principality of Monaco (http://www.visitmonaco.com) has a colorful and fascinating history filled with barbarians, kings and even a movie star. It is a story of castles, epic battles and untold riches. In 1997, Monaco celebrated the 700 year reign of the Grimaldi dynasty. It all began on January 8, 1297 when the Guelf François Grimaldi dressed as a Franciscan monk, seized the fortress protecting the famous rock of Monaco and the port of Hercules. Surmounting the trials and tribulations of history and throughout the dark periods of foreign domination, the Principality has managed to affirm its identity and preserve its independence throughout the centuries due to the wise guidance of its Princes.

The Grimaldi dynasty has bequeathed Lords and then Princes to the Principality, illustrious in their many domains, who wrote the most enticing pages in the history of Monaco. To cite but a few: Rainier I, General Admiral of France; Honore II, the first Prince of Monaco at the origins of the most important treaties with France; Louis I, Ambassador to the Holy See under Louis XIV; Antoine I, grand patron of the arts; Charles III, founder of Monte-Carlo; Albert I, renowned as the father of oceanography; Louis II, the soldier Prince; and Rainier III, the builder Prince.
Since 2005, H.S.H. Prince Albert II – already known as the green Prince for his interest in the environment – has been leading the Principality into the 21st century with the support of His sisters H.R.H. The Princess of Hanover and H.S.H. Princess Stephanie. In 2011 Prince Albert married. Charlene Wittstock.

Monaco enjoys a privileged location at the heart of Mediterranean Europe. The Principality is nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by the French Riviera to the west and the Italian Riviera to the east. This is the second smallest country in the world, after Vatican City -three miles long by one-half miles wide (about the size of New York’s Central Park). While Monaco is the name of the country, Monte-Carlo is a district within Monaco.

Monaco is a constitutional monarchy ruled by Prince Albert II. One commune – Monaco – is divided into four areas: Monaco-Ville, the old fortified city on the Rock which includes the Prince’s Palace, Cathedral and Oceanographic Museum; the Condamine, or port quarter; Monte-Carlo, the business and recreation district; and Fontvieille, a man-made waterfront area for recreation and light industry.

Any person of foreign nationality who wishes to enter Monégasque territory and stay there for a period not exceeding three months must have the document (passport, travel or identity document) required for entry into French territory.

Monaco’s climate is ideal throughout the year. It enjoys mild winters, with 48 degrees minimum, and pleasantly warm summers with July and August temperatures hovering around 78 degrees. On average, the Principality enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year.

French is the Principality`s first language, but some natives speak the ancient Monegsque. English and Italian are also widely spoken.

Monaco has a population of just over 32,000.

The Automobile Club of Monaco organizes a Grand Prix race each year. There are more than 3,000 seats available for sale on the circuit.

The size of Monaco allows speedy and easy commutes between the various districts of the Principality. Walking in the Principality is facilitated by public lifts and escalators that operate 24 hours a day, every day, to help overcome different altitude levels. Public transportation includes a bus shuttle service that includes five different routes. Departures are every 10 minutes from 7 am to 9 pm.

DINING OUT: The highlight of our evening in Monte Carlo was a remarkable dinner at the Salle Empire (http://www.montecarlosbm.com/restaurants-in-monaco/gourmet/salle-empire) at the gorgeous Hôtel de Paris (http://www.hoteldeparismontecarlo.com). We took the train from Nice to Monte Carlo and enjoyed a pleasant 10 minute walk through town to this most breathtaking facility where we were seated on a gorgeous terrace overlooking the entrance to the grand casino. This was “people watching” at its best. A musical trio serenaded us with soft songs and a group of servers provided us with sensational service, starting things off with champagne, soft lemon rolls and their signature potato chips.

montecarloresort

It is in the Salle Empire that haute gastronomy is served during private dinners catering for up to 350 guests, and concerts and shows are organized for invited audiences. Spectacular celebrations also take place in this setting, unique in Europe. It is part of the Alain Ducasse enterprise. We had already tasted his culinary excellence earlier on in the trip at Le Jules Verne Restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.

MIKEMontecarlo

Home to chic galas, refined dinners and the Principality’s most sophisticated soirées, the Salle Empire – a classified historical monument — underwent careful and meticulous restoration in 2004. Eight hundred thousand gold leaves (the equivalent of a gold bar) for its ceiling, five French windows opening out to the terrace overlooking the Place du Casino (a distinctive feature which astonishes guests), swathes of silk and precious trimmings… nothing has been forgotten to glorify its style and its beauty.

Salle_Empire)

We experienced an extraordinary nine course meal which lasted nearly two and a half hours. Every item on the menu was explained in great detail and if something did not meet our dietary requirements a substitute was easily arranged. First was an interesting and nutritious drink, a concentrated healthy extract of bio vegetables. This was followed by raw and cooked vegetables from the hotel’s own garden, with tangy juice. We then enjoyed some amazing eggplant ravioli with fresh goat’s cheese and thyme lemon. Next was a cook pot of Brittany lobster, with coral juice. The main course was a roasted lack of lamb from prealps rubbed with summer savory and summer vegetable. It was beautifully prepared.

(lobby)

There were no less than three separate desserts: home-made delicacies and chocolates from the Hôtel de Paris; red fruit, strawberry juice and vanilla ice cream; and a traditional chocolate soufflé. The servers made a hole in the middle and poured hot chocolate sauce inside. We each got a side plate of whipped cream. This was so light and beyond delicious. The final serving was a moka coffee.

The Hôtel de Paris falls under the auspices of the Group Monte-Carlo SBM (www.sbm.mc), which oversees four casinos, four luxury and top quality hotels (Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel Hermitage, Monte Carlo Beach and Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort), 30 restaurants and bars, the Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo (one of Europe’s finest spa and thalassotherapy centres), the mythic city hall “Salle des Etoiles” and La Rascasse and Sea Lounge.

Widely regarded as one of Europe’s finest grand hotels, the Visitor’s Book reads like a copy of Who’s Who? Originally built with 100 rooms, the property was designed by the architect Dutrou on a model of the Grand Hôtel on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. In the summer of 1878, the Monte-Carlo Opera and the new gaming rooms designed by Charles Garnier were built. The Hôtel de Paris immediately acquired an international reputation, hosting numerous society events including balls and charity galas. A succession of high profile guests, including artists and financiers such as Rockfeller, Rothschild, Vanderbilt and Gordon Bennett, would base themselves at the hotel. At that time the amount of food eaten daily was astronomic. The 127 cooks of the hotel were preparing each day 1, 534 pounds of beef, over 200 chickens, 150 game animals, 14 lambs, 150 dozen of oyster and over 1,400 bottle of wines.

At the beginning of the new century , the Russian dukes used to stay at the Hôtel de Paris renting wall floors of the hotel and organized extravagant dinners. The “Grand Duc Dimitri” invited one night a few friends of his. On the menu: caviar, salmon pojarsky and 60 magnum of champagne most of them ending against the marble column of the dining room after an enthusiastic toast. The First World War dampened the sparkle of life in Monaco but when peace returned, the Hôtel de Paris once again became not only the meeting-place of the international elite, but, also, the headquarters of Diaghilev, Lifar and Kochno who created the great moments of the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo. During this time, lavish dinners hosted by the King of Sweden, Gustav V, at the Hôtel de Paris were the talk of Europe’s high society.

The Second World War saw the Hôtel de Paris become a shelter for political refugees. At the end of the hostilities, the victory of the Allies once again allowed the Hôtel de Paris to welcome its international clientele including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill and Errol Flynn whose wedding in 1952 attracted the Hollywood glitterati. The Hôtel de Paris has hosted many other historical events such as the 20th wedding anniversary of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco in 1976 and the 100th birthday of General Nicolaieff, the hotel’s oldest guest. In May 1974, the 25th anniversary of the accession of His Serene Highness Prince Rainier was honoured at a lavish dinner which was also the first official function attended by the young Prince Albert, Heir to the Throne of Monaco.

On the Place du Casino, opposite the entrance to the Hôtel de Paris, the car valets appear to perform a ballet as they park the prestigious automobiles. The tone is set. Up a few steps, a few strides, and visitors arrive in the great lobby with its majestic ceilings that never fail to stir emotions. The equestrian statue of Louis XIV has a very shiny knee because of an old tradition – gamblers believe that rubbing its knee will bring them good luck. To the right, the entrance to the celebrated restaurant “Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse,” on the left the famous Bar Américain where the Monaco elite gather, a little further on are the entrances to the Salle Empire and other salons, the luxury boutiques are at the end, the reception desk and concierge service are opposite. First contact, first smiles, attentiveness and immediate efficiency, the extremely courteous welcome from the director who makes a point of greeting all guests, in particular those on their first visit to the Hôtel de Paris. The magic works, the Hôtel de Paris is like a great symphony orchestra playing only for you.

October 6, 2014 will be one of the outstanding dates in the 150-year history of the l’Hôtel de Paris with the launch of a vast program of renovation and restructuring that is scheduled to last for four years. The hotel will continue to operate throughout this period on a reduced scale. Nevertheless, in order to enable guests to be welcomed in the best possible conditions, a short two-month phase of preparatory work will be necessary, leading to a total closure from October 6 to mid-December. The hotel will reopen for the Christmas period until January 18 2015, when the first main phase of work will begin. The complete reopening of is scheduled for September 2018. An exhibition presenting images of the renovation program is set in the “Sporting d’Hiver. During all of this time the Salle Empire will serve as the main restaurant.

London: England

The history of London, England stretches back over thousands of years. For my recent family trip to the British capital, this was an exercise in authentic learning at its best. The city’s world-class tourist attractions are renowned across the globe and frankly I needed a lot more than the seven days I had allotted to see everything. This is the political, economic and cultural capital of Britain where you can visit the Queen’s official residence at Buckingham Palace and literally plug activities into your agenda endlessly. All I know is that I must return one day.

VISIT BRITAIN: In planning our trip to London, it was good to have the team at the British Consulate General on Bay Street in Toronto to touch base with. Log on to www.visitbritain.org

THE TUBE OYSTER PASS: Visitor Oyster cards (http://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk) are plastic smartcards you can use instead of paper tickets. It is a pay as you go credit which you use when you travel. It is the cheapest way to pay for single journeys on the bus, tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services. I was particularly impressed with the subway system (the tube). It was clean, safe and pretty simple to navigate. The oyster card can actually be ordered online if you do so with sufficient advance notice. Otherwise you can buy yours at any station.

HARRODS: Encompassing seven floors of exquisite collections across 4.5 acres, the gigantic Harrods Department Store welcomes over 15 million customers through our doors each year. I found it overrated. For us it was like visiting a museum. You really have to see this place in person, but we did not stay long.

WORLD WAR I:
August 1, 2014 marked 100 years since the start of World War I and a group of attractions around England, led by Imperial War Museums, are hosting a four-year commemorative program of events. For more information, visit www.1914.org. The Imperial War Museum London will open new First World War Galleries next summer, which will tell the story of the 16 million people whose lives were claimed by the First World War. The £35 / $57 million project will include a re-designed atrium will stretch over six floors, providing a dramatic space to display the most iconic and unusual objects from the collection. www.iwm.org.uk

WHERE TO STAY:
It is a funny story how I ended up deciding upon accommodations in London and let me emphasize how we hit the jackpot by booking at The Kensington Hotel (www.doylecollection.com) at the corner of Queen’s Gate and the Old Brompton Road. A contact I had made at hotels in Cape Cod and Boston directed me to the Doyle Collection, a privately owned group of eight luxury hotels located in the most fashionable neighbourhoods of five major cities around the world – three in London, one in Bristol, two in Dublin, one in Cork and one in Washington.

1. Kensington Exterior

The Kensington only opened in 2009 and still looks spanking new. This was a fabulous place to stay in every which way. There is a full-time concierge desk and the folks there go above board to assist you. The front desk and upper management make it a point to get to know every guest on a first-name basis. We had the most unique suites I have seen at any hotel: one main door opens leading to a small hallway, with two other doors at each side. They can be left open or closed. One has a king sized bed and a very large bathroom while the other has a queen. The units are very spacious and excellent for families to spread out and not be on top of each other.

5. Kensington Deluxe Room

There are in-room safes, something I always appreciate and very cleverly one outlet per room where you do not need a UK adapter. Another allows for French adapters, so pick one of those up as well so it increases your ability to charge things overnight.

The hotel is situated only a few blocks from the South Kensington tube station, so you really cannot beat this place for location. On your way to and from the subway you will pass a number of different restaurants and a couple of grocery stores. It is a lively and pretty area of town.

Stores such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols in nearby Knightsbridge vie with the intimate boutiques, chic restaurants and design stores in the ever fashionable Chelsea, while the open green spaces of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are but a short stroll away.

The ground floor of the hotel is a series of interconnecting drawing rooms, with welcoming open fires, large bay windows, and many original features such as the handsome stone staircase. The rooms are individually decorated in an elegant country house style, using sumptuous fabrics, deep upholstery and an eclectic mix of contemporary art and furnishings. The atmosphere is relaxed throughout, with the engaging and innovative service creating the ambiance of a smart private members club.

Guests are invited to meet, dine and drink wherever they choose throughout the day, with The Kensington Afternoon Tea being an everyday highlight. As in any grand house the 150 rooms at The Kensington vary in shape and in size, from the cosy to the opulently spacious. All are individually designed, with Italian marble bathrooms and a luxurious selection of furnishings and fabrics. The newly completed Kensington Suite is considered amongst the most chic and elegant in London. Rooms enjoy a variety of views, through French doors onto leafy Queen’s gate, over the neighbouring rooftops or onto the quiet internal courtyards.

Each room is furnished and dressed to suit the style of the period architecture, and Georgian proportions – naturally classic, but a scattering of contemporary pieces throughout gives the space a natural feel. And from the smallest to the grandest, every room at The Kensington is a space to call home.

There is complimentary high speed Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, 24 hour room service, a spa and treatment room, luxurious, bespoke treatments and therapies which can be booked in room, laundry and dry cleaning services, a fitness suite, luxury car service and DVDs and game consoles.

This was the residence of choice for the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins during the historic first state visit to the UK by an Irish head of state that included a state banquet with HM Queen Elizabeth II. The magnificent doors that lead into the hotel baronce once graced the historic General Post Office (GPO) building in Dublin’s O’Connell Street. It is one of Ireland’s most famous buildings, and was the last of the great Georgian public buildings erected in the capital.

We enjoyed a daily buffet breakfast in the main restaurant, called Audrey, and returned there twice for absolutely fabulous dinners. Aubrey Bar & Restaurant offers modern dining at its best where British flavours are reworked into modern and stylish dishes. Offering total flexibility, and all day casual dining, guests are welcome to relax in the elegant drawing rooms and sit and eat where they like. The adjoining cocktail bar, with its distressed mirrors and historic brass doors has a club style feel – the perfect place to watch the master mixologists shake your cocktails into shape.

For both dinners we ordered the same thing. Our server started us out with sourdough, soda bread and Guiness brown bread. We next shared a Caesar salad and some amazing seared scallops, with heritage, tomato dressing and basil. For the main course one member of the family feasted on a London favorite: fish and chips with tartar sauce while two of us shared a whole sea bass with lemon and herbs. It was masterfully prepared as per our specifications. This came with some of the best mashed potatoes I can remember eating in a long time. I also heard good things about their hamburger, sirloin steak, chicken and sandwiches. For dessert we shared some warm chocolate fondant.

The other two London hotels from the Doyle Collection are the Bloomsbury in the Georgian district and the Marylebone, located near trendy Oxford and Bond Streets. The former’s interior is lofty and distinguished, with its ornate iron staircase, majestic décor and wood-paneled library, named in honour of the late Nobel Poet Laureate, and regular guest, Seamus Heaney. Rooms and suites are finely proportioned and furnished for unparalleled comfort while, with their outdoor terraces, the bustling, cosmopolitan Landseer restaurant and bar prove a real attraction, morning to evening. The latter features an urban spa, gourmet dining and exceptional service that turns even the briefest of stays into a genuine pleasure. Everything is on the doorstep, including some of the world’s best private medical clinics.

For guests with special needs, the Kensington offers a lift for wheelchair users at the entrance to the hotel and there is a disabled toilet on the ground floor. Five accessible rooms are available for booking.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: Our first activity was the Changing of the Guard, the process involving a new guard exchanging duty with the old one. The Guard which mounts at Buckingham Palace is called The Queen’s Guard and is divided into two Detachments: the Buckingham Palace Detachment (which is responsible for guarding Buckingham Palace), and the St. James’s Palace Detachment, (which guards St. James’s Palace). These guard duties are normally provided by a battalion of the Household Division and occasionally by other infantry battalions or other units. When Guardsmen are on duty, the soldiers are drawn from one of the five regiments of Foot Guards in the British Army: the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, the Welsh Guards, the Grenadier Guards and the Coldstream Guards.

guardchange

The Queen’s Guard is commanded by a Captain (who usually holds the rank of Major), and each detachment is commanded by a Lieutenant. The Colour of the Battalion providing the Guard is carried by a Second Lieutenant (who is known as the Ensign). The handover is accompanied by a Guards band. The music played ranges from traditional military marches to songs from films and musicals and even familiar pop songs. When The Queen is in residence, there are four sentries at the front of the building. When she is away there are two.

The Queen’s Guard usually consists of Foot Guards in their full-dress uniform of red tunics and bearskins. If they have operational commitments, other infantry units take part instead. Units from Commonwealth realms occasionally take turn in Guard Mounting. In May 1998, Canadian soldiers from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry mounted guard at Buckingham Palace for the first time since the Coronation in 1953. Household Troops have guarded the Sovereign and the Royal Palaces since 1660. Until 1689, the Sovereign lived mainly at the Palace of Whitehall and was guarded there by Household Cavalry.

In 1689, the court moved to St James’s Palace, which was guarded by the Foot Guards. When Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace in 1837, the Queen’s Guard remained at St James’s Palace, with a detachment guarding Buckingham Palace, as it still does today. At Buckingham Palace, Guard Mounting takes place at 11.30 am. It is held daily from May to July, and on alternate dates throughout the rest of the year. To get a good spot arrive at least one hour early.

While the ceremony begins at 11:30 each morning, at busy periods take my advice and get there at least an hour early. That gave us to find a decent spot to stand and take pictures. Thousands of people jammed the area. There was a significant police presence and they continually shouted out warnings for us to be aware of pickpockets.

BUCKINGHAM PALACE:
Immediately following the Changing of the Guard we proceeded to Buckingham Palace and the Royal Day Out tour (http://tickets.royalcollection.org.uk/state-rooms-buckingham-palace/royal-day-out-2014/2014). This runs annually from late July until late September. A Royal Day Out ticket offers admission to The Royal Mews, The Queen’s Gallery and The State Rooms at a discounted price. Reserve as much as four and a half hours to complete this tour. The Queen’s Gallery operates a timed-admission system, with entry every 15 minutes throughout the day. The admission time you select will be for The Queen’s Gallery. Your ticket is valid for admission to The Royal Mews and The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace on the same day, at any time during opening hours. Make the purchase online. This was an extraordinary experience, assisted greatly by the audio tour kits we were handed upon entering the State Rooms portion of the tour. Friendly young ambassadors guided us in the right direction.

DressingtheQueenRoyalCOllection
(Photo credit Andrew Holt)

Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Her Majesty The Queen. It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today. During a visit, visitors can see the 19 magnificent State Rooms which provide the setting for ceremonial occasions and official entertaining. All rooms are furnished with many of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection. Admission to the State Rooms includes entry to the special exhibition “Royal Childhood.” The State Rooms are fully accessible and visitors with different access requirements are welcomed. Wheelchair and step-free access are available via a separate entrance at the front of the Palace. Special access tickets must be pre-booked by contacting the specialist sales team at +44 (0)20 7766 732.

The Royal Mews is an important branch of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and provides road transportation for The Queen and members of the Royal Family by both horse-drawn carriage and motor car. It is also one of the finest working stables still in existence, responsible for the training of the Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays, the horses that pull the royal carriages.

State vehicles are housed and maintained at the Royal Mews. They include the carriages used for royal and state occasions, such as state visits, weddings and the State Opening of Parliament. Carriages from the Royal Mews are also used on roughly 50 occasions each year to convey newly appointed high commissioners and ambassadors from their official residence to Buckingham Palace to present their credentials to The Queen. Since 1843 the daily messenger Brougham has set out from the Royal Mews to collect and deliver posts between Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace. The most dazzling of all coaches housed in the Royal Mews is the Gold State Coach, which has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821. The latest to join the collection of royal coaches is The Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which was built to commemorate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

You can visit the Royal Mews at your leisure using the complimentary audio tour, which lasts approximately 45 minutes. Between April and October, guided tours also depart at regular intervals throughout the day. The Royal Mews is fully accessible and welcomes visitors with different access requirements. Most of the site is outside, with some cover. The flooring is cobbled and uneven in places. All visitors who require an access companion receive a complimentary ticket.Manual wheelchairs are available to borrow free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis for the duration of a visit. Mobility scooters can be used at the Royal Mews. The ticket sales desks, shop till counters and the audio tour collection points are equipped with induction loops. Hearing aids should be switched to the T position.

The £20-million expansion of The Queen’s Gallery was the most significant addition to Buckingham Palace in 150 years. This project was funded entirely by the Royal Collection Trust through public admissions to the official residences of The Queen (Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse) and through associated retail activities. The project involved stone masons, wood carvers, fibrous plaster and scagliola workers, copper and bronze workers, specialist joiners, blacksmiths, specialist painters and cabinet-makers. The Queen’s Gallery was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in May 2002, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. It hosts a program of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.

The Queen’s Gallery is fully accessible and welcomes visitors with different access requirements. All visitors who require an access companion receive a complimentary ticket.
There are 17 steps leading to the exhibition level. The Queen’s Gallery shop is at split levels, with three steps between levels. A ramp is available on the left-hand side of the shop.A lift provides wheelchair access to the main exhibition and measures 145cm in depth by 82cm in width.
The term ‘State Rooms’ is applied to those rooms that were designed and built as the public rooms of the Palace, in which monarchs receive, reward and entertain their subjects and visiting dignitaries. Today the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are used extensively by The Queen and members of the Royal Family to receive and entertain their guests on State, ceremonial and official occasions.

The Palace’s State Rooms predominantly reflect the taste George IV (r.1820-30), who commissioned the architect John Nash to transform what had previously been known as Buckingham House into a grand palace. Many of the pieces of furniture, sparkling chandeliers, candelabra and other works of art in these rooms were bought or made for Carlton House, George IV’s London home when he was Prince of Wales. Today the State Rooms are furnished with many of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Van Dyck and Canaletto, sculpture by Canova, exquisite pieces of Sèvres porcelain, and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

Many of the other State Rooms also have particular uses today. It is in the Throne Room, for example, that The Queen, on very special occasions like Jubilees, receives loyal addresses. On April 29, 2011 this room was the setting for the formal photographs following the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In the Music Room, guests are presented to The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and the visiting Head of State on the occasion of a State visit. The White Drawing Room, perhaps the grandest of all the State Rooms, serves as a royal reception room for The Queen and members of the Royal Family to gather before official occasions. The State Room tour includes the three-acre lake, the Rose Garden, the enormous Waterloo Vase and the Palace tennis court, where King George VI and Fred Perry played in the 1930s.

WESTMINISTER ABBEY: Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains – the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history. Every year Westminster Abbey (http://www.westminster-abbey.org) welcomes over one million visitors who want to explore this wonderful 700-year-old building. Thousands more join in for worship at their daily services. The Abbey is in the heart of London. Once inside audio guides are available in eight languages or there is the highly-popular verger-led tour. There was a long lineup when we arrived, but very much worth the wait. Indeed this was another one of those living history lessons.

THE ORIGINAL BUS TOUR:
With over 80 stops, three main sightseeing routes and countless photo opportunities, The Original Tour (http://www.theoriginaltour.com) really is the finest way to see London and her landmarks. Sit back, relax and take in the sights, sounds and iconic views of the city, both ancient and modern. We picked up our tickets at the Trafalgar Square Visitor Centre. There is a bus stop across the road where you can hop on immediately. One fantastic value 24-hour ticket offers a truly comprehensive London sightseeing experience: on foot, by boat and on board a marvellous fleet of London’s famous red buses. From historic sites and attractions, to some of the most famous views in this tour will take you where you want to go. This was probably one of the most relaxing experiences for me. We started off by listening to an audio tour and half way through a gentleman stepped on to the second level of the bus and began providing splendid live commentary. Truly this is the single best thing you can do on your first full day in London for it will help you pinpoint all of the main landmarks.

The Original Tour-141 HR

Founded over 60 years ago, The Original Tour is now the largest, most popular open-top sightseeing bus tour operator in the world! Tickets include three walking tours and a Thames river cruise completely free. The tickets are completely unrestricted. You can travel on any of their famous open top tour buses. Each route makes frequent stops – simply hop-off at any of the 80 plus bus stops, then hop back on at the stop of your choice. Their main Red and Yellow Route tours take around two to two and a half hours and the Blue Route tour takes around 90 minutes if you stay on the bus. Alternatively, you may hop on and off and re-join the tour at any Original Tour bus stop. Buses run at intervals on average of every 15 to 20 minutes, however in the summer months the buses can be as frequent as every five minutes. The tour stops close to most of London’s major attractions and landmarks. Your tour ticket is valid on all routes.

The majority of the buses are wheelchair accessible. One ference wheelchair (maximum dimensions 3’11” (L) X 2’4″ (W) X 4’5″(H)) may be carried in the designated space, facing forwards, using the wheel clamps fitted. On other buses or if the space is unavoidably occupied the carriage of unfolded wheelchairs is not permitted. Folded wheelchairs may be carried, where space permits, in appropriate stowage areas. Although it is not necessary, they recommend that customers who require wheelchair access go to either Victoria (Grosvenor Gardens) or Picadilly Circus (Coventry Street) start points as a member of their on-street management team will be on hand to assist with information on the next available bus.

TOWER OF LONDON: The Tower of London (http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon)
is a large open air site covering 18 acres (including the moat). As well as being a unique historical monument, it also houses part of the collection of the Royal Armouries. This place has a village atmosphere, complete with its green and parish church, and is home to some 150 people. A medieval castle was designed to defend its inhabitants and to keep the lord and his household separate from other castle dwellers. In places it is as difficult to get around as it undoubtedly was during the Middle Ages.

TowerfromBoat

I recommend you start off by visiting the Queen’s Crown Jewels, one of the unmissable highlights of a visit to the Tower of London. There is usually a lineup here, but what you will see is extraordinary. Check out the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror. Today it houses displays from the Royal Armouries’ collection. Next, walk through surprisingly rich colours and comfortable furnishings of the Medieval Palace We joined in one of the famous Yeoman Warder tours to hear exciting tales from the Tower’s past. The gentleman who served as our guide was hilarious and had everyone in stitches. You will learn how the Tower was attacked and defended in their interactive Fortress displays/ Experience through live costumed re-enactments. You can also decide for yourself who murdered the Little Princes in the Bloody Tower and discover the extraordinary prisoner graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower

For those with mobility requirements and wheelchair users, there is a colour map detailing routes and other useful information. This historic building has places with difficult stairs and passageways and wheelchair access is limited. There are also a large number of steps throughout the Tower with cobbles laid in some of the roads. However, the Jewel House and the Crown Jewels are fully accessible to all visitors. A virtual tour of the Medieval Palace and south and east Wall Walks is available; it can be viewed in small chunks, a room at a time, or as a complete sequence.

There is a new audio tour written especially for blind and partially sighted visitors. It guides you around the Tower, visiting some of the key areas including Traitors’ Gate and the Bloody Tower. This gives you the chance to try on a helmet and handle chain mail as well as hear about the defence of the Tower. It also provides an opportunity to learn more about the prisoners who were held in this great fortress whilst exploring the graffiti they left in the Beauchamp Tower.

The guide is free with admission and comes with a tactile map. It takes about an hour and half and reveals much of the hidden history of this iconic palace. With interviews the tour tells you what it is really like to live inside a Royal Fortress.

The tour can be collected from the multimedia guide desk in the Beefeater shop. The guides have a neck strap making them easy to carry. The sound can easily be controlled and clear detailed instructions are provided on the guide to help you use them. For the hearing impaired, induction loops are provided at various points in the Tower wherever you see the icon. Multimedia guides can be used with hearing aids that have a T-switch.

TOWER BRIDGE: Right next door to the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge Exhibition (www.towerbridge.org.uk). It was recently awarded a Certificate of Excellence for 2014, signifying that it has consistently earned outstanding feedback from TripAdvisor travellers. Within the Bridge’s iconic structure and magnificent Victorian Engine rooms there is plenty to see and do! After watching a new animated video about why Tower Bridge was built, guests can walk into the high level Walkways, 42 metres above the River Thames. This offers visitors the chance to admire stunning panoramic views of London, spying such popular landmarks as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Monument to the west and St Katharine Docks leading to Canary Wharf to the east.

The East Walkway houses the exhibition “Great Bridges of the World.” This photographic exhibition features over 20 bridges, each of which represents a breathtaking feat of engineering. In the south tower a short video shows the construction of the Bridge, before guests proceed to the West Walkway where they can view the new stylish exhibition, the Sixties. Here, visitors can admire stunning photographs of the people, places, events and designs that epitomize this revolutionary decade. Continue on to the original lifting machinery in the Victorian Engine Rooms, complete with sounds and smells that transport you back in time to the Bridge’s origins. You will also experience a virtual Bridge lift, providing you with a unique view of the Bascules being raised.

Individual and family tickets for Tower Bridge Exhibition, as well as joint tickets for Tower Bridge Exhibition and the Monument, can be purchased on the day from the ticket office based at the North West Tower and in advance online.

Tower Bridge Exhibition is easily accessible to all visitors. There are lifts to take visitors to all levels in the Towers and the Engine Rooms are a short distance away on the south side of the Bridge. Wheelchairs are also available for visitor use. There is a lift in the Exhibition entrance hall (located on the North West side of the bridge) taking visitors to the top of the North Tower where the exhibition begins.

CITY CRUISES: City Cruises (www.citycruises.com) is not the leading operator of passenger services on the River Thames for nothing, carrying in excess of two million passengers annually on its extensive sightseeing, entertainment and charter services. Now based at Cherry Garden Pier, a romantic-sounding location in south-east London that was once a part of the city’s huge commercial docks, it operates 12 revenue-earning passenger-carrying boats, along with a small fleet of support vessels and barges. We purchased hop-on hop-off River Red River tickets, which enabled us to take in London’s best sights with some of the best commentary the city has to offer – as well as the opportunity to hop on and off to experience them first hand you do not need to book sightseeing tickets in advance. These can be purchased at the pier on the day of travel. We actually boarded at the Westminster Pier. The entrance is right next to the Westminster tube station. There was terrific and entertaining commentary as the cruise proceeded. After having taken the bus tour, this offered another perspective that we really enjoyed.

Most of the boats are wheelchair accessible. Individuals seeking such assistance are asked to contact the reservations team to discuss which boat is the best for you. There is a 50 percent discount on the normal fare for wheelchair users and 50 percent discount for one companion per wheelchair user. Blind passengers (with or without guide dog) travel free of charge.

LONDON EYE: Just over 14 years ago, in March 2000, the London Eye (www.londoneye.com) opened its doors to the public for the first time and has since welcomed everyone from homeless charities to royalty and guests of all ages from countries all over the globe on the 135 metre high giant observation wheel. Since its debut, the London Eye has become the symbol of modern London, hosting the New Year’s Eve fireworks each year since 2001, being the centrepiece for the Olympics closing ceremony and turning red, white and blue for the birthday of HRH Prince George, positioned proudly at the heart of everything happening in the city. It has become as synonymous with London as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, or the Opera House in Sydney. Originally only due to open for five years, people the world over have taken the London Eye into their hearts and the great wheel has now been granted lifelong permission in its position on the South Bank of the River Thames.

LondonEye

Being a feat of engineering, innovation has always been a priority at the London Eye and the experience continues to be improved upon. Over the years a 4D cinema experience has been introduced, capsules have been upgraded to improve air temperature control and reduce overall carbon emissions, as well as the introduction of interactive touch screen guides in several languages, giving guests more information on the breathtaking views. Exciting new products such as a Pimm’s Experience and Dining at 135, a three course dining experience, are also now on offer giving guests plenty of reasons to return, with an impressive 24 percent of guests currently doing just that. We knew that this was something we absolutely had to experience and I am happy we did. It is worth the wait in line, but if you want to speed things up pay the extra fee and purchase a fast track ticket. The view is astonishing once you get up really high.

All disabled guests can bring a caregiver free of charge on both the London Eye and the London Eye River Cruise. They are both fully accessible for disabled guests, with wheelchair access and disabled toilets. Reasonable documentation of disability is required in order to receive a free caregiver entry. Service dogs are welcome. There may be a small delay while practical arrangements are made. You can book your tickets for the London Eye and London Eye River Cruise via email or by calling our accessible booking line. Email accessiblebooking@londoneye.com. Wheelchair access starts at the beginning of the boarding ramps.

Guests who are visually impaired may wish to purchase the London Eye Guided Tour. Guests who have a hearing impairment may wish to purchase their Mini Guide or Guidebook to enhance the experience. It is easy to get on and off the London Eye if you use a wheelchair or have walking difficulties. When you reach the embarkation point, the London Eye is slowed down or stopped to make boarding simple. Members of staff will always be on hand to assist guests, but we are unable to physically lift guests into and out of capsules. If you think you will need special assistance boarding your London Eye capsule, bring a caregiver to help. Their ticket is free.

Due to safety concerns only two wheelchairs are allowed per capsule on the London Eye – and a maximum of eight in total at any one time. It’s a very good idea to book your wheelchair space in advance, especially if your London Eye Experience is during a school holidays or a weekend. There are a limited number of wheelchairs available for loan at the customer service desk inside the ticket office.

MATILDA THE MUSICAL:
Yes indeed, London is “the” place to see live musical theatre; I beg to say bigger than New York City. I was astonished to see the amazing choices. With our schedule we had little time to spare and we selected Matilda the Musical (www.matildathemusical.com), playing at The Cambridge Theatre at Earlham St. Inspired by the twisted genius of Roald Dahl, with book by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin. Matilda is the captivating musical masterpiece from the Royal Shakespeare Company that revels in the anarchy of childhood, the power of imagination and the inspiring story of a girl who dares to change her destiny. It premiered at the RSC’s The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2010, playing to sold-out audiences before transferring to London’s West End. It opened at the Cambridge Theatre in October 2011 and is currently booked until May 2015.

In 2011 Matilda The Musical won both The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical at The Critics’ Circle Awards and The Ned Sherrin Award for Best Musical at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. The production has also collected the awards for Best Musical Production and Best Performance in a Musical (Bertie Carvel) at the Theatre Awards UK 2011. In February 2012 Matilda The Musical picked up four awards at theWhatsonstage.com awards, including Best New Musical, Rob Howell for Best Set Designer, Peter Darling for Best Choreographer and Tim Minchin for the London Newcomer of the Year.

The production went on to smash theatreland records when it scooped a total of seven awards at the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards, securing its place in the Book of Guinness World Records for Most Laurence Olivier award wins. In the process Matilda The Musical stole the title from the 1980 production of Nicholas Nickleby, also a Royal Shakespeare Company production, which had held the record, with six Olivier awards, for more than 20 years.

DINING OUT: It is becoming a bit of a habit for my family to visit Sofitel hotels around the world. Besides the one in Montreal, we have been to the New York City and Beverly Hills, California locales in the past year. In London we stopped by the Sofitel St. James, a luxury five-star hotel in London. It is located at 6 Waterloo Place, near St. James’s Park and Buckingham Palace. This is the former home of Cox’s and King’s bank. The sympathetically renovated building is English heritage grade II listed. We decided to dine at The Balcon (http://www.thebalconlondon.com), a grand brasserie which serves as the perfect setting to enjoy the finest French-British cuisine from Head Chef Vincent Menager. The area has been designed with the sense of arrival evident throughout each of the distinct areas: the brasserie, the custom-made charcuterie bar, the Champagne Balcony, the tasting table and private dining room. The Balcon offers breakfast, morning tea and savouries, lunch, French and English afternoon tea, Champagne and cocktails, charcuterie, dinner and late night dining.

The Balcon takes its inspiration from a Parisian brasserie with a strong influence of best seasonal British produce. The á la carte menu includes a selection of small plates such as “gin marinated organic salmon and vegetable à la Grecque” or a traditional Alsatian dish, the flammekueche tart, ideal if you fancy several starters or want to share with a friend. In a hurry, you can enjoy a croque-monsieur with morbier and asparagus or opt for the Tray Rapide à la carte menu, with a choice of starter, main course and dessert served all at once. You will also discover a new dessert menu, with a mouth-watering baba served with Dalmore single malt 12 year old whisky or an English breakfast tea crème brûlée and lemon madeleine. Their new De-Light menu is cooked and prepared with health and wellness in mind.

Our server Sylvio started us off with a nice bottle of rose wine from Chile and a delicous selection of fresh baked breads. We ordered a nice salad to share and then moved to the main course. Two members of our party shared a delicious aged Scottish sirloin steak with Béarnaise sauce and some superb Rooster mashed potatoes. The steak cut like butter, done so with a special in-house selection of knives. Yes the waiters comes to the table with several knives and their back stories, an interesting twist.

I opted for the Wild sea trout fillet, with Jersey Royal potatoes, coriander and garlic sauce. At The Balcon, the house specialties are listed in brackets. Items such as grilled squid and Jersey Royal potato salad or Braised Angus beef short rib to start and the roasted Oxford lamb saddle or the Native lobster, with coquillettes pasta with clams and asparagus as main courses. I am glad we saved room for dessert: warm chocolate mug cake with milk ice cream and vanilla ice cream profiteroles with hot chocolate and praline sauce. If you are headed to London, this spot should be high on your list for an extraordinary dining experience.

Sofitel London St James is a 125,000 sq. ft grade two listed building, formerly the headquarters of a Lloyds Bank subsidiary and owned by The Crown Estate. Designed by E. Keynes Purchase, in association with Durward Brown, the original building was completed in 1923 to house the headquarters of Cox & Company and later became Cox’s & King’s following the acquisition of Henry S. King & Co. It was subsequently taken over by Lloyd’s Bank who occupied the building in the years following. Founder Richard Cox was appointed agent for the First Regiment of Foot Guards, later called the Grenadier Guards, in 1758. In the pioneering days of the British Empire, Cox & Co set up branches in India, Burma and Egypt. Richard Cox, genuinely devoted to the welfare of the regiments he represented, was also a patron of the arts, and a friend of many of the best actors and musicians in the West End. The architecture and structure of the building complement the master strategy originally laid down by John Nash for his Regent Street urban plan 100 years earlier. Sofitel has developed the site in collaboration with The Crown Estate, Westminster City Council and MWB, to create a hotel, which reflects both the original grandeur of the building and the outstanding architecture in this prime St James location.

TEA TIME: When in London, I was always told, one must experience afternoon tea. We chose to do so at the gorgeous Dorchester Hotel (www.dorchestercollection.com) in the stunning vista of The Promenade, which stretches the same length as the London landmark, Nelson’s Column. Refurbished in 2005 by Thierry Despont, The Promenade is a series of rich, warm, intimate spaces culminating in a stunning, oval leather bar at the end of the room. Very much the heart of the hotel, The Promenade is open all day for informal dining serving breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and a supper menu. The Promenade features live entertainment on a daily basis. A pianist plays from 1:15pm to 7 pm and live jazz music takes place from 7:30 pm each day.

The Dorchester Champagne Afternoon Tea on The Promenade High Res

For over 80 years the Dorchester has earned the reputation of serving one of the finest afternoon tea experiences in the country. Having experienced it, I can now understand why. This is a “class act” from the moment you walk through the front door and are shown to a table. Our charming server spent some time explaining how the afternoon tea service works. We had actually arrived at 5:45 p.m. on a weekday, yet being novices we wondered whether this would substitute for a dinner.

The first thing to arrive at the table was some glasses of chilled Laurent-Perrier NV champagne. We were then given a menu containing six separate pages of tea choices. There was great detail under each one and after much thought the Paris and Dorchester blends won out. The former is a black tea flavored with currants, bergamot and caramel. As for the latter, a homemade speciality is a truly elegant tea, perfect for anytime of day and includes a blend of Sri Lankan Ceylon and golden Assam teas and just a slight hint of caramel notes. Our server took the time to pour us cups throughout the evening. I normally have one cup per sitting. On this occasion I had four. It was that tasty and of course went perfectly with the rest of the servings

We thoroughly enjoyed a selection of home-made finger sandwiches: cucumber with cream cheese on caraway seed bread; egg mayonnaise, with shiso cress on white bread; chicken, with wholegrain mustard mayonnaise on basil bread; smoked salmon on granary bread; and a seafood mix. I savored every morsel and expressed deep appreciation when the server asked if we wanted some more. Next was the famous raisin and plain scones rom their bakery, served with homemade strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. Again, this was a culinary treat of giant proportion. I ate each scone slowly in order to completely appreciate this experience. Did we have room for a selection of French pastries? Well, we had to take our picks very carefully as we were feeling a bit full at this point. Nonetheless we were strategic and concluded this meal (and yes it was indeed a meal that lasted almost two hours) with a huge thumbs up. Our server was kind enough to send us back with our leftover which we enjoyed back at the hotel the following day.

Afternoon tea is served five times daily at 1.00pm, 2.00pm, 3.15pm, 4.30pm, 5.30pm and 6.45pm. The Dorchester is situated in the heart of London’s Mayfair on Park Lane.

WARNER BROTHERS HARRY POTTER: While in London we could not resist the temptation of the Warner Brothers Studio Tour – the Harry Potter experience (http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk). The Harry Potter film series made the town of Leavesden its home for more than 10 years. As the books were still being released while the films were being made, the production crew saved many of the iconic sets, props and costumes that were created especially for the movies – just in case they were ever needed later on in the series. Once filming wrapped on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in 2010, the production crew were left with a treasure trove of thousands of intricate and beautifully-made artifacts, many of which wouldn’t have been saved on a typical production. The team behind Warner Brothers Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter wanted to preserve and showcase these iconic props, costumes and sets so that Harry Potter fans could experience the magic of filmmaking first-hand. Many of the original cast and crew returned to reassemble the sets and record their memories from filming, and on March 31, 2012, the Studio Tour opened its doors. Set adjacent to the working film studios where all eight Harry Potter films were made, the Studio Tour offers visitors the unique opportunity to explore two soundstages and a back lot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures and breathtaking special effects. Digital guides are available in eight different languages. The handheld digital guides contain fascinating facts about the sets, costumes and props showcased at the Studio Tour. Watch newly-produced interviews with filmmakers and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage. The English Digital Guide is narrated by Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter film series.

Hogwarts castle model

In the back lot, you’ll get the opportunity to purchase a cup of frothy Butterbeer, a non-alcoholic beverage reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch. Children are invited to collect their own complimentary activity passport, which includes a fun Golden Snitch hunt to make their visit even more unforgettable.

Potions classroom

Six stamping stations are placed throughout the tour and passports can be collected from a staff member upon arrival Experience green screen technology for yourself and ride a broomstick just like the cast! They also offer the option to purchase a memento of your flight – available as a photograph, exclusive DVD or HD USB in a variety of packages.

The studio tour is located 20 miles north-west of London and less than three miles from the M1 and M25 motorways. Regular public transport links serve the attraction and a shuttle bus service from Watford Junction train station is available. We took the latter option after easily finding our way to to the meet up point via tube and the regular train service. Having seen all of the Potter films, I did find the experience completely surreal -especially the surprising conclusion. It takes three hours to tour this place properly Of you are like me you will be glued to the explanatory billboards, video screens and the very sets you were exposed to in the movie theatre. Indeed it has made me anxious to watch the entire series of films over again.

All registered guide, hearing and medical alert dogs are allowed into the Studio Tour.

While manual and electric wheelchairs are welcome, they do require advance notice due to seating restrictions within their cinema at the beginning of the visit. Due to the layout of the attraction, this also means that only a certain number of wheelchair users can enter the latter part of the tour at any given time. The Visitor Services Team will discuss this and other accessibility concerns with you prior to booking, so please do make them aware of your specific needs.

The majority of the tour is suitable for wheelchairs, but some areas can be difficult to navigate. This includes the Diagon Alley’s cobbled street and the Great Hall’s slate floor. The Knight Bus also has a short boarding platform which cannot be accessed by wheelchairs. The green screen area provides visitors with two fully accessible photo opportunities, including the chance to fly a broomstick as members of the cast would have done during filming. Visitors must be able to transfer themselves on to a broomstick and seatbelts can be provided if required.

Sarah Roots, vice president of Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, commented: “What makes the Tour so special is that everything on show has been used in the making of the Harry Potter film series. All the sets, props and costumes are authentic and show the incredible detail and craftsmanship that goes into film production. All the films were shot at Leavesden so it’s wonderful to have given the sets a permanent home here.”

Tickets for Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter are available via
www.wbstudiotour.co.uk and must be pre-booked in advance by selecting tour times throughout the day. Tickets are not available to purchase on site. Tickets are priced at £31 for adults, £23.50 for children and £93 for a family of four. The attraction is located just north of London at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden with fast train links from Euston and shuttle buses for ticket holders to and from Watford Junction.

RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: I could not resist checking out London’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! (www.ripleyslondon.com) venue right at trendy Picadilly Circus. At Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London visitors can marvel at an unbelievable collection of jaw dropping artefacts from across the globe – many of which were collected by the ultimate explorer Robert Ripley himself.

With over 700 astonishing exhibits, galleries and interactive experiences spanning across six floors, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London celebrates the weird, wonderful and bizarre in all its forms, which are sure to excite, delight and thrill the whole family.

Want to see how will you measure up to the world’s tallest man? Or come face to face with our rare collection Amazonian shrunken heads? Will you dare to venture into Ripley’s Marvellous Mirror Maze and defeat the Impossible LaseRace? The artwork, videos and fascinating depictions of different people drew me to this place. I was especially impressed by the portraits of Michelle Obama completely in bottle caps and Kate Middleton done all with red lipstick.

Nice: France

Between our visits to Paris and London, my family and I came to the conclusion that we wanted to find a place that provided us with the opportunity to sit at a lovely beach by day and enjoy a lively and fun atmosphere in the evening. Nice (http://en.nicetourisme.com), located on the French Riviera, was the logical choice.

The rich blue-green sea, diverse shopping, splendid dining and art deco façades represent the true beauty of this vacation paradise. But there are several spots that a tourist simply must see, such as the Cours Saleya Flower Market, the Matisse Museum, ancient Roman ruins, the Russian Cathedral and more. Nice is second only to Paris in the number of museums and galleries.

Few spots epitomize Nice – or, in fact, the joie de vivre of the French Riviera in general — than the inviting Promenade des Anglais. It is always a beehive of activity. There are tourists relaxing in the royal blue chairs lining the shore, locals roller blading, biking or jogging and vendors selling crepes and drinks.

Nice’s famous Flower Market is one of the best attractions in the whole city. The edges are lined with cafés and souvenir shops, and the stands themselves are packed with amazing produce and myriad flowers. It operates six days a week, replaced on Mondays by a flea and antiques market.

The lovely and innovative art of Henri Matisse was inspired by the fresh colors and lines of Nice. Just take a look at any of his art peering out of balcony windows, and you will surely see the Riviera shoreline. This vast museum shows Matisse’s works from his more traditional early days to the end of his career. There are also some of his personal effects here. The museum gift shop features prints of the artist’s works.

VIEUX NICE MARCHÉ SALEYA

Old or Vieux Nice is downright dripping with atmosphere. Its narrow streets are a one-stop shop for take-home finds, such as Provençal wares, household items, wine, gourmet gifts, hip clothing and more. There are numerous restaurants in the area, as well as several fun bars and nightclubs. Be sure to stop off for a delicious ice cream in this neighborhood. We went there twice and really soaked up the atmosphere.

Check out the chateau, for a spectacular panoramic view of the city and sea. You won’t actually see much of a castle (only a few sections of it remain). You can take the elevator up for a nominal price or hike up the stairs for free to the park atop the hill. Be sure to bring your camera.

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The Nice pedestrian zone, or “zone pietonne,” is a hub of activity. This is the place if you need to load up on souvenirs. Street entertainers frequent this area. There are gourmet and clothing shops, newsstands, bookstores and more. Grab a café au lait and watch the world go by, nibble on a crepe, or visit in the evening for a robust meal with an Italian accent. This is just a lively spot!

The Nice Port area is one frequently overlooked by tourists, but it shouldn’t be. Just around the corner from Old Nice and the Quai des Etats Unis, this is a great spot to watch the Corsica ferries lift off. There are also some of the city’s hippest nightclubs here.

WHERE TO STAY
: We spent considerable time researching where to stay and the Radisson Blu (http://www.radissonblu.com/hotel-nice/location) won out for its beautiful seaside location. There are 331 rooms and suites and amenities such free high-speed, wireless internet access and complimentary entrance to the on-site health and fitness club. You can dine at the Bleu Citron or La Terrasse, both well known for delicious international and regional cuisine, or relax on the rooftop terrace with a refreshing cocktail. This Nice hotel, located at 223 Promenade des Anglais, also offers premier services, such as a rooftop pool, sauna and sophisticated meeting facilities. It is only four kilometres from the airport and five kilometres from the train station. We truly appreciated the free seasonal double decker bus shuttle service to Old Town, which operates in July and August.

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We stayed in a picturesque sea view room and let me tell you there is no better sight than opening your blinds each morning, stepping out on a balcony and looking out at the beautiful water and beach front.

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Our rate included a generous breakfast buffet at the “Bleu Citron” Restaurant. In order to store some perishables we asked the hotel to empty the mini bar for us, which they did at no charge. The hotel has its own exclusive private beach, open from April to October. For a fee we secured sun lounges for the days we were there. I appreciated the personalized service. By my second day all of the staff remembered my name. You are really pampered here. Not only do they set you up with towels, chairs and umbrellas, but you can order food and drinks from a menu. This is a rocky beach (no sand), so bring a pair of beach shoes. The water is warm and inviting.

For business and vacationing guests, additional services like a 24-hour concierge, bike rental and business centre make this a great choice for accommodation. The knowledgeable, multilingual staff is always willing to lend a helping hand or give a piece of advice about the area for guests. I was very impressed with the concierge staff. I had started to call and email them often in the months leading up to the trip and they always responded very quickly. Once checked in, they provided a wealth of information.

DINEIG OUT: Where to dine in Nice? There are a lot of choices and we spent a significant amount of time researching the best options. Our search first stopped at Le Grand Balcon (www.legrandbalcon.net) located at 10 rue St. François de Paule near the opera house. The food is all fresh and homemade. Our meal was absolutely spectacular and I would recommend you place the first on your list of dining choices. It is located on the main drag in Vieux Nice. When we arrived for dinner there were a few tables set up on the outdoor terrace. As we dined, we noticed the staff starting to add more. Within minutes the capacity had more than doubled and in no time at all every spot was filled.

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The curtains of the “Grand Balcon” were opened in 2003. Charismatic owner Karine Guffanti and her amazing staff welcomed us warmly, all speaking perfect English. Karine visits with every customer and even takes down orders.

Ideally located between the Place Massena and Cours Saleya, a few steps from the Promenade des Anglais, Le Grand Balcon’s indoors features a library of ancient books inside. Chef Jean-Luc Rossi cooks up gourmet dishes unforgettable moments. At only 13 years of age, Chef Rossi joined the Hotel School Paul Augier in Nice. For three years, he shared his time between the College and the majestic Palace “The Regina” in Cimiez. He has been with Le Grand Balcon since 2010.

The menu is neatly set up like a stage presentation. Act I features appetizers and our server recommended the selection platter: the chef’s combination of four starters. This included: home-made foie gras; marinated Norway salmon with lime, fennel and dill; raw artichoke salad and shaved parmesan cheese and warm truffles sandwiches. We also shared a fabulous king prawn risotto. For our main course, or Act II, we chose three dishes to share: a grilled beef fillet with super home-made mashed potatoes; scallops in “tuber aestivum” truffles, with added black truffles puree; and sea bass fricassee with sautéed purple artichoke. Act III was dessert. We shared a chocolate delight with home-made caramel and passion fruits and a black truffle and salted butter caramel éclair. Once again, beautifully prepared. This was definitely the best restaurant we experienced in France, topping anything we tried in Paris.

We were excited to learn that there was a Hard Rock Café ( http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/nice) in Nice. In fact it only opened up last November. The atmosphere was great from the moment we walked in. Our waiter, Igor from Budapest, was full of personality. He actually sat down at our table, chatted about his background and then took our order.

Located at 5 Promenades des Anglais, the multi-level Hard Rock Cafe Nice is nestled near Vieux Nice, along the Mediterranean Sea on the Promenade des Anglais, and is a must-see for both visitors and locals. It has early 6,000 square-feet of space, including seating for 200 guests with 30 seats on a prominent outdoor dining patio. Additional features of the Nice location include a late night bar and Rock Shop filled with iconic Hard Rock merchandise. Additionally, the Cafe functions as a venue for unique private celebrations and memorable event functions to accommodate Nice’s growing convention market. For the physically handicapped there are elevators which reach reach both the rock shop and the second level.

With great rock videos playing on the big screen, we felt very much home looking at the menu. We were in the mood for some really good hamburgers and there was no disappointment when Igor delivered them to our table. There is also a Hard Rock in Paris in the Montmartre District, so make this one of your stops.

In Nice the Hard Rock Cafe pays homage to the city’s ethnically diverse culture and fascinating waterfront, accented by upscale design features and innovative technology featured throughout the cafe’s indoor and outdoor dining areas. The new location is complete with the Rock Wall Solo, an interactive touch wall with technology that enables fans to explore the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia collection and virtually tour the company’s venues around the world. In addition, memorabilia from Hard Rock’s iconic collection adorns the walls of Hard Rock Cafe Nice, including a vest worn by Justin Timberlake, the red wire headpiece Rihanna wore in her “What’s My Name?” music video, a drum kit Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum played on the “Use Your Illusions” tour, James Brown’s suit worn on tour in the late ‘70s, a left-handed 2006 Epiphone Tony Iommi Signature SG guitar played by Black Sabbath guitarist, and much

It is interesting that we had to go to Nice to discover a host of new offerings and updated fan favorites now on the Hard Rock menus in the US and Europe. More than 27 types of buns were sampled before the final brioche bun was selected. Burgers were evaluated by a number of different factors, including various blend combinations of premium ground beef and brisket, as well as fat to lean ratios, thickness and shape. During the menu revamp, Hard Rock made freshness and quality a top priority. The entire entrée salad selection of the menu was reinvented, with five varieties of lettuce combinations brought in during the testing phase. Seasonal options for vegetable of the day and various burger toppings were added as well.

Hard Rock added items in each menu category to give guests the widest variety of options. Three new salads (Grilled Chicken Chop Salad, Grilled Chicken Arugula Salad, Cobb Salad) and three of the new desserts (House-made Carrot Cake, Molten Lava Cake and Cheesecake with Oreo Cookie Pieces) all received extremely high marks. Research concluded that each of those items received order-again ratings of 90 percent and above – nearly every guest that tested those menu items would order again upon their next visit. Another sure-fire hit being introduced is the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich, which combines freshly grilled vegetables, spicy Monterey Jack cheese, with a dash of Balsamic reduction on toasted sour dough bread.

All the new items kept in line with Hard Rock’s core menu concept of scratch-based, all-American favorites that resonate with diners around the world. Popular new menu items added include entrees like the Cowboy Rib eye, a USDA choice 16-ounce, bone-in steak cooked to perfection, served with a choice of two sides, and Smoked Beef Brisket Sandwich, slow-cooked beef brisket, topped with hickory barbecue sauce on grilled sourdough bread. Hard Rock also updated the sides, which allows guests to customize their meals such as Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Daily Fresh Vegetables.

Hard Rock also found that some menu items were a guest favorite just the way they were – or with minor modifications to propel them from chart topper to legend. For example, Hard Rock’s Nachos replaced a layer of queso with two layers of mixed cheeses and added options for new toppings such as savory pulled pork and smoked beef brisket to be reborn as their signature “Nachopalooza.” Also, the famous Jumbo Chicken Wings will now debut as “Rockin’ Wings” with a reformulated signature smoked 10-spice rub and a choice of Classic Rock, Tangy or Heavy Metal Sauces.

Additional favorites that were modified for the new menu include the Hickory Smoked BBQ Ribs, Grilled Norwegian Salmon, Hickory Smoked Chicken Wings, and the Legendary® Burger, an eight -ounce grilled-to-perfection proprietary blend patty served with cheddar cheese, smoked bacon slices, iceberg lettuce and special Hard Rock seasoning presented on a fresh Brioche bun.

Hard Rock also spent six months researching what quenches guests’ thirst, by analyzing international beverage trends and current sales and trends to determine the best way to remix its drink lineup. The brand recruited its top 10 beverage partners to assist with menu development and training. Hard Rock developed more than 150 plus drinks in the key areas, including tiki, coffee, dessert, mojitos, margaritas, lemonades, multi liquor teas and more.

With a total of 185 venues in 57 countries, including 142 cafes, 20 hotels and nine casinos, Hard Rock International (HRI) is one of the most globally recognized companies. Beginning with an Eric Clapton guitar, Hard Rock owns the world’s greatest collection of music memorabilia, which is displayed at its locations around the globe. Hard Rock is also known for its collectible fashion and music-related merchandise, Hard Rock Live performance venues and an award-winning website. HRI owns the global trademark for all Hard Rock brands. The company owns, operates and franchises Cafes in iconic cities including London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney and Dubai. HRI also owns, licenses and/or manages hotel/casino properties worldwide. Destinations include the company’s two most successful Hotel and Casino properties in Tampa and Hollywood, Fl., both owned and operated by HRI parent company The Seminole Tribe of Florida, as well as other exciting locations including Bali, Biloxi, Chicago, Cancun, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Diego and Singapore. Upcoming new Hard Rock Cafe locations include Seoul, Vienna and Marseille. New Hard Rock Hotel projects include Daytona Beach, Aruba, Abu Dhabi and Shenzhen and Haikou in China. For more information on Hard Rock International, visit www.hardrock.com

Vancouver: Granville Island

I love Vancouver, so when I knew we had to be in Los Angeles for a few days I made sure to arrange for a flight which enabled us to stay overnight in British Columbia’s largest city.

What is the most enjoyable spot in Vancouver to hang out? Without a doubt, Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com) earns that title.
Imagine an island in the middle of a city. Granville Island is moulded by a fascinating history, buzzing with a colourful artistic community. It’s a living, breathing urban oasis filled with fine waterfront restaurants, theatres, galleries, studios, unique shops, cafes and the most spectacular fresh food market you’ve ever seen. Their website says that no visit to the city is complete without spending at least a day here and that is just what we did.

WHERE TO STAY:
We sought out and found a place to stay right on site. The Granville Island Hotel (www.granvilleislandhotel.com) may just be Vancouver’s best keep secret. This hidden gem offers guests a one-of-a kind experience. The newly renovated hotel offers a sense of sophisticated elegance with all the comforts of home.

GI Hotel Entrance

No two rooms are alike at this hotel. The standard rooms have deluxe mattresses, duvets and triple sheeting, ensuring a pleasant sleep. You have a choice between either two double beds or one king. Rooms come with water views, park views, and some have private balconies. Bedding selections and views are available by requests only.

Given the beautiful weather when we arrived we asked for a Superior corner room with a balcony. It was a beauty, very large in size and perfect for entertaining some family members who live in Vancouver. The room had a large sized working desk, a small pullout couch, two tables and two chairs. At the end of the incredibly comfortable bed was a bench to place your luggage or sit on. As for the balcony, what a beautiful option to wake up to when the weather is nice – a picturesque view of the water front and the city. There are chairs to sit on as well.
We had a microwave next to a full sink, a completely stocked mini bar, great lighting, a safety deposit box in the cupboard, bathrobes, “very” high speed internet, a 42 inch flat screen LCD TV with HD channels and a bathroom to die for – huge in size with two sinks, a large mirror and a gigantic shower.

When we walked by the front desk with our family member’s dog, the staff member handed us a cookie for the adorable canine. We were on the third floor, home to a nice health club outfitted with a number of stair masters, flat screen TVs and a hot tub.
The lobby is very welcoming, leading towards meeting rooms on one side and the very popular Dockside Restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and supper, on the other. There is a live fish tank surrounding the bar, an in-house brewery and an endless wall of different wines. This has become a popular spot for weddings.

WHAT TO DO: My brother in law tells me that Granville Island is recognized as one of the top 10 tourist attractions in the world. We arrived on a Sunday evening. When I went for a walk the following mid-morning the place was jammed with people.

GranvilleOverview

At the market it was fun to browse the aisles and sample local and exotic flavours from the very best farmers, bakers, butchers and fishmongers. There were crafts galore and buskers too. Daring improvisational comedy, modern interpretations of classic plays and contemporary theatrical productions are presented at venues on site. And whether it’s a casual nibble or gourmet dining, you’ll discover why Granville Island is famous for its food. My favourite spot here is the Sandbar at 1535 Johnston Street – a short walk from the hotel. The 300 seat restaurant is usually packed, serving up the freshest seafood in a warm, sophisticated atmosphere.

The Emily Carr University of Art and Design is based on Granville Island, offering exhibitions to the public. Right next door you will find glassblowing, jewellery making and other artisans’ studios.
You can take a rental boat around scenic English Bay or hop on an Aquabus or a False Creek Ferry for a quick jaunt around the False Creek Inlet. This is also the place for starting off on an unforgettable sea kayak adventure or whale watching tour.

New York City

My family and I recently returned from a busy four day stop in New York City (www.nycgo.com), where we saw two spectacular Broadway musicals (Pippin and Kinky Boots), stayed at a sensational luxury hotel (The Sofitel) and enjoyed a restaurant experience (TAO) we won’t soon forget.

Of course, New York is also one pretty terrific place to shop, from the boutiques of Madison Avenue, the iconic department stores on Fifth Avenue, the world’s largest Macy’s, the two bargain-packed Century 21 locales and the fashion-forward shops in SoHo and the Village. There are many great museums to choose from, but on this trip there just was not any time for that.

Among the most popular tourists stops in the Big Apple are the 9-1-1 Memorial, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Civilization, Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, Central Park/the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo

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BROADWAY: Unquestionably “the draw” in New York City remains its extraordinary Broadway productions. Be prepared to pay big dollars, even for a seat that is the second to last spot in the house at the top. Here is a tip though. Go online via Ticketmaster or Telecharge, check out the precise availability and call the toll free number so that you can get a more accurate route of what is available. While they offer to mail the tickets at least 48 hours before the show, we recommend that you either print them out online or ask to pick them up at will call. In some cases you can even buy cancellation insurance.

Kinky Boots and Pippin represent two “can’t miss” choices. These Tony Award winning musicals were so good you can count me in to see them again if the opportunity presents itself.

In Kinky Boots (www.kinkybootsthemusical.com), Charlie Price has reluctantly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of drag queen Lola. A fabulous entertainer some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible and discover that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world. Inspired by a true story and based on the Miramax motion picture written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, Kinky Boots features a warm and witty book by Harvey Fierstein and a richly diverse musical score from pop icon Cyndi Lauper, in her stunning theatrical debut.

Kinky Boots won six 2013 Tony® Awards, the most of any show this season, including Best Musical, Best Score (Cyndi Lauper), Best Choreography (Jerry Mitchell), Best Actor (Billy Porter), Best Orchestrations (Stephen Oremus), and Best Sound Design (John Shivers). The show also received the Drama League, Outer Critics Circle, and Broadway.com Awards for Best Musical, along with many other accolades

Tickets for Kinky Boots ($87 – $157) are available for purchase in person at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre box office (Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm; Sunday, 12 pm to 6 pm), online at www.telecharge.com, or by calling Telecharge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For information on group sales, contact Group Sales Box Office/Broadway.com at groups@broadway.com or 1-800-BROADWAY, ext 2.

The standard performance schedule for Kinky Boots is as follows: Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 pm and 8pm, Thursday at 7 pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm. There is a general ticket lottery each day; lottery entries will be accepted outside the Al Hirschfeld Theatre box office (302 West 45th Street) beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance, and names will be drawn at random, for a limited number of $37 tickets, two hours before curtain time.

Pippin, meanwhile, is back on Broadway for the first time since it thrilled audiences 40 years ago, having won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival. With a score by Tony nominee Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked), Pippin tells the story of a young prince on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. Will he choose a happy, but simple life? Or will he risk everything for a singular flash of glory? It arrived on Broadway direct from an acclaimed run at Boston’s American Repertory Theater. This captivating new production is directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus (Hair and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess). It features sizzling choreography in the style of Bob Fosse and breathtaking acrobatics by Les 7 doigts de la main of Montreal.

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Gypsy Snider, from Les 7 doigts, notes that the musical was originally about a travelling theatre troupe. “We made it into a travelling circus,” she said. “I got to sit down with Stephen Schwartz several times. He was incredible. Pippin has a tremendous history. This was the first musical to have TV commercials. It launched the career of actor Ben Vereen and it marked legendary choreographer Bob Fosse’s first Tony Award. It is really about the existential crisis about a young man wanting to be extraordinary.”

Snider’s first meeting with Paulus been at a sushi restaurant in Montreal. “I had never seen Pippin before,” she recalls. “But after reading the script and doing some research, I realized I was familiar with certain pieces. I think the fact that I never saw the full package was vital in creating this reimagined revival. I saw Pippin with pure eyes. I knew that Diane wanted the company to become a circus troupe, and so that was my only vision of the story.”

Pippin is playing at the Music Box Theatre (239 W 45th Street). Tickets are available via Telecharge: 212-239-6200, 800-432-7250 or online at www.pippinthemusical.com. Shows are Tuesdays through Sundays, with two presentations Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets are priced at $59 to $277 each. Pippin runs two hours and 35 minutes, including 15 minute intermission.

WHERE TO STAY:
My family and I have indeed experienced heaven. That is because we spent four nights in a gorgeous luxury suite at the Sofitel New York (www.sofitel.com), located at 45 West 44th Street, a very short walk from Times Square and Broadway theatres. For us, the location could not have been better.

Huber Lobby Staircase w Bird

This elegant 30-storey midtown Manhattan hotel is just a stone’s throw from Fifth Avenue. There are 398 spacious rooms on 30 floors, including 52 suites and one presidential suite all featuring Sofitel’s luxurious feathertop and duvet sleep system – SoBed. The executive suites encompass a bedroom with a separate seating/work area, which can be closed off from each other for in-suite meetings. Most suites have southern exposure, s offering a downtown view. Five terrace suites have outdoor terraces with commanding views of Manhattan. While the bed in our main bedroom was as comfortable as can be, the sofa bed also got very high marks. Seldom have I seen a hide a bed mattress as perfect as this one. There is excellent cupboard space, bathrobes and slippers to use during your stay and an in-room safe with plenty of room to place your valuables.

Elegantly decorated with Paris-meets-New York motifs, all guestrooms have a spacious marble bathroom, three telephone lines, broadband Internet access and fully stocked mini-bars. Room service is available 24 hours along with international newspapers; nightly turn-down service with Evian water; and imported French bath products. There is a fully equipped fitness centre on the basement floor.

The Sofitel New York first opened on July 14, 2000. It caters to upscale business and leisure travelers seeking a classic, yet contemporary, “home away from home” while travelling. From the moment you check in, via a series of “Bonjour,” you are treated like royalty. The lobby is large, warm and welcoming, with the concierge ready to guide you. Staff here speaks 52 different languages and there is a French-speaking ambassador in each hotel department. Upon check-in, the hotel will valet park your car at the Hippodrome facility across the street and have it ready for when checking out.

The hotel boasts seven meeting rooms perfect for small to mid-sized meetings, with rooms ranging from 365 to 760 square feet. Rooms are designed to meet specific meeting needs, from video-conferencing to breakout work sessions and computer access for company training sessions. The Grand Ballroom offers 2,500 square feet of space to seat up to 180 people.

There are handicapped rooms available while all rooms can accommodate wheelchairs as well as the visually and hearing impaired. All kosher meals are out sourced . The hotel is used for kosher functions.

For reservations, call 1-800-Sofitel (763-4835).

HOTEL DINING: On the evening we arrived we decided to dine at Gaby, a traditional French brasserie and bar named for a Parisian model who made a name and career for herself in New York in the 1920s. Just off the lobby of the hotel, the restaurant seats 128 people. There is easy interior access for hotel guests and an entrance on 45th Street. There is a special lift at the Gaby entrance for those in wheelchairs.

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Executive Chef Sylvain Harribey has been in New York for five years, having previously worked for the Sofitel in Philadelphia and Bordeaux, France. His culinary achievements include winning first place on the hit Food Network show called Chopped. This is a classy restaurant, popular not only with hotel guests but those going to a Broadway show. Pre-theatre menus do exist here. The restaurant is open all day, beginning at breakfast and for lunch as well. Among its special menus is 30-minute business lunches served in bento boxes for executives on the go.
“I cook with my heart, and my French heritage,” said Harribey. “I look for new ways to refine classic French recipes and techniques, trying new combinations of ingredients, experimenting with culinary traditions, and procuring only the fresh ingredients from local farms.”

We enjoyed an absolutely outstanding dinner at Gaby, having the great advantage of meeting Harribey in person. He first prepared a marvellous and tasty butternut squash cappuccino, with truffle oil and fleur de sel. This was followed by a unique spring lobster salad, featuring some sumptuous lobster, fruits, avocados and greens. There were two main courses: oven roasted lamb loin, crusted with Dijon mustard, white bean puree with pumpkin seed oil, vegetable tian gratine and Harribey’s own creation called the Franburger. This was served on a crispy baguette with melted brie cheese, caramelized onion and piment d’Espelette pepper aioli and French Fries on the side. We shared some extraordinary desserts: a crème brulee, a chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate chip and raisin pudding with cinnamon ice cream. Harribey is also proud to promote De-Light by Sofitel, a gastronomic adventure in healthy eating. Developed by Thalassa Sea & Spa, the recognized nutrition and wellness experts in France for over 40 years, the menu features an innovative array of well-balanced, low calorie meals to help individuals meet their health and weight goals in delicious style.

DINING OUT: New York City is indeed the place to dine, with an endless array of choices to please your palate. Needless to say, there is no shortage of kosher restaurants here either.

The one restaurant we had heard a lot about was TAO (www.taogroup.com), the pioneers of the Pan-Asian trend that swept New York City over a decade ago. We dined at TAO Uptown; the chain recently unveiled TAO Downtown and they are in Las Vegas as well.
Since its inception in 2000, TAO Uptown at 42 East 58th Street, has become well-known for spurring the trend of “vibe-dining,” has been a national and international hotspot. TAO Downtown is located beneath the Maritime Hotel.

Upon entering the restaurant, one is immediately struck by a 16-foot Buddha floating above a reflecting pool filled with Japanese carp .The Pan Asian restaurant specializes in authentic Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines. There are three levels of dining, including the prized “Skybox” which offers views of what once was a movie theatre. Tao has 300 seats, a sushi bar, lounge and two bars at which to enjoy the food and the show. Be sure to make reservations. As GM Keith Dorrow told us, “we are always busy.”

There is a wonderful ambiance here, with trendy music and a charismatic serving staff. The menu here is truly designed for sharing. Our waiter, Hutch, made life so much easier for our group by recommending a series of courses. It is as if he read our minds. We started off with some appetizers: hot edame and roasted shishito peppers. That was followed by spicy tuna tartar on crispy rice, six pieces we split among us happily. The Peking duck spring rolls, with hoisin sauce, were deliciously crispy but the outstanding item of the night which I strongly recommend was the satay of Chilean sea bass with wok roasted asparagus. I cannot remember tasting any kind of fish this good. The lobster and shrimp spring roll with shiitake mushrooms and spicy pineapple sauce was a treat, a bit spicy but nothing too difficult to handle.

TAO Uptown_MDR from Above_Photo Credit Patrick McCleod

TAO has a magnificent sushi menu. You can study the options via their menu. Hutch selected some fantastic pieces for us.

There was still more to come. The wok-seared New York sirloin with shiitake mushrooms cut like butter and was served with some crispy roasted potato wedges. An order of crispy orange chicken, beautifully prepared scallops and some white rice rounded out the main course.
Did we have room for dessert? First came the sugar dusted doughnuts with a trio of dipping sauces – caramel, chocolate and vanilla. This was delicious beyond description. The banana pudding with fortune cookie crust and the lemongrass crème brulee were dandy as well.

There is easy street-level access by wheelchair. When making your reservation, ask for table at the main level where there are no stairs.
There are a number of Jewish partners at TAO, including Rich Wolf, Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, as well as managing partners Paul Goldstein and Andrew Goldberg. “We’ve spent over 10 years perfecting what TAO represents,” said Wolf, who talks excitingly about their newest downtown New York location.

“This isn’t just a ‘second location’ of TAO in New York City; it is the next iteration of our brand,” Wolf continues. “Devoted fans will still feel at home, but there are many elements that distinguish the restaurant from its sister locations. This is what guests can expect from us moving forward.”

While continuing to celebrate the flavors of Cantonese, Japanese and Thai cuisines that are deeply rooted in the brand’s origins, TAO Downtown’s menu spans a larger breadth of Asian influences, ranging from Hunan and Szechuan-style cooking to the flavors of Singapore and Malaysia, inspired by the group’s research abroad. Dishes like Singapore Shrimp and Kueh Pie Ti, traditional Malaysian crispy shells served with various fillings, only begin to showcase the chefs’ mastery of age-old techniques and understanding of classic Asian flavor pairings. New signature dishes include offerings from sea, sky, and land, such as Crispy Snapper in the Sand, Roasted Chicken Chow Mein, served with hand-pulled noodles made fresh daily in-house, and Wagyu Sukiyaki. Guests can also anticipate an updated selection of sharable plates, ranging from house-made Dim Sum and traditional Yakitori skewers to an assortment of Barbeque, Tempura and small plates, such as Ju Ju Chicken, a spin on Japanese fried chicken served in a hot clay pot. New noodle and rice dishes feature items like Shanghai Fried Rice, which is served inside a thin egg crepe, MaPo Tofu Noodles and Pork Belly Black Fried Rice. Furthering TAO’s commitment to quality, a three-level fish tank was installed in the restaurant’s kitchen, where live catch are delivered daily. A small selection of dishes from TAO Uptown’s menu has been re-imagined at TAO Downtown to satiate all cravings.

Turning the traditional-style sushi bar experience on its head, the sushi bar has been reinvented at TAO Downtown to encourage group dining and easy sharing for parties larger than two via an amoeba-like shape. The sushi menu features new specialty rolls like Glazed Tuna and Wild Mushroom, which will be offered along with the freshest sushi and sashimi, available by the piece or platter. Paying homage to small sushi counters in Japan that offer hot and cold plates in addition to fresh fish, TAO Downtown’s sushi bar includes a separate kitchen where expert sushi chefs create items like Tuna Hamachi Tataki and Tuna Sashimi with Parmesan, served with tomato wasabi salsa and a crispy sesame stick. Unique to TAO Downtown, those who select Omakase at the sushi bar are also able to enjoy off-the-menu hot and cold items created at the dedicated sushi kitchen and solely available in this area of the restaurant.

TAO Downtown seats up to 400 throughout the restaurant, with approximately 300 in the main dining room alone. TAO Downtown is located at 92 Ninth Avenue (between 16th and 17th Streets). You can check out www.taodowntown.com. I guess I will have to put this location on my list for the next trip to New York. I am still very happily digesting my Uptown experience.

Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Quebec

The West Island Montreal communities of Vaudreuil -Soulanges continue to gain notice as cost efficient and quality place to live. Located on Montreal’s West Island, extending to the Ontario border, the Municipalité régionale de comté (MRC) de Vaudreuil-Soulanges has a population of nearly 140,000 people throughout its 23 municipalities.

During frequent trips to and from Ontario over the years, I have always noticed the landmark Chateau Vaudreuil Hotel (www.chateau-vaudreuil.com). The increase in development here has been obvious, both commercial and residential. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, shopping, car dealerships and the largest family entertainment centre in Canada called Woohoo (www.woohoofun.com). The AMT commuter train has a stop here. A new $25 million sports complex has opened and there is talk of a hospital being constructed by 2018, a Costco and possibly a movie theatre complex.

The Vaudreuil-Dorion Regional Museum, located at 431 St. Charles, features a collection of 7,500 objects representative of the daily life of craftsmen and artists from the 17th to the 20th-century. Among one of the first regional museums opened in the early 1950s, it stages over 50 events annually, including exhibitions, concerts and workshops.

The city of Vaudreuil-Dorion recently broke ground on phase two of a project to expand construction on St. Charles Avenue. Mayor Guy Pilon says the project involves building two new overpasses to replace the current deteriorating. They’ll also be adding two more lanes to the access ramp that leads to the Eastbound 40. Construction is expected to be completed in September 2015, at which point a bike path will be built.
The mayor says that 55 percent of the people who work – the work force of MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges – go to Montreal every morning
I recently chose to spend a little extended time there to explore the area more thoroughly.

WHERE TO STAY: The five star Château Vaudreuil Hotel (www.chateauvaudreuil.ca) at 21700 Route Transcanadienne is extraordinary. It is not only a wonderful choice for tourists, but Montrealers should consider this place for an easy weekend getaway.

Chateau exterior

Benito Migliorati is the owner. He is presently marking the 25th anniversary since this palace of a facility first opened. This is very much a family affair. His charming wife Carole serves as vice-president while their two daughters, Melanie and Sonia, work at the hotel as well. Benito purchased the land on the scenic shores of the Lac des Deux Montagnes in 1986 and began building the Château Vaudreuil. In March 1989, the hotel opened its doors for business. It boasts the Pavillon sure le Lac (a magnificent standalone banquet and meeting facility), Villa d’être Restaurant and 116 suites on 25 acres of gardens. A large terrace and covered tents allow activities to expend outdoors, weather permitting.

Their executive suites offer a view of the calming waters of the Lac des Due Montages, 800 square feet of living space, a fireplace and Italian marble bathrooms equipped with Jacuzzi and bathrobes. The main bedroom has a double bed with a bench at the end, a comfortable sitting chair with a footrest, another two chairs, a work desk, a large flat screen TV and a clock radio with stereo sound. There is separate living room side, divided by French doors. Here you will also find a work desk, a sitting chair with footrest and a large LCD TV. You also have a comfortable table for four to eat at, a sofa-bed, a convenient in-room safety deposit box, a mini-bar and coffee machine. The room has extensive cupboard and storage space. A bit more on the bathrooms. These deserve the “Wow” factor. Besides being very large, there are two separate sinks, superb counter space, and a shower, the Jacuzzi, a bidet, a small stool to sit on, a telephone and even a television with a remote.

The hotel offers spa service, a fitness room, a beautiful indoor pool and whirlpool, an in-season tennis court and fantastic banquet facilities for weddings and corporate functions. This is indeed a picturesque locale for a couple to say their vows and the hotel can accommodate groups from 20 to 500 guests. Some ceremonies and receptions occur lakeside.

Outdoor

Over the last few years, the Chateau Vaudreuil has become a very popular for Jewish weddings. It has a kosher kitchen, partnerships with two prominent kosher caterers (Tradition/Romano Giorgi and Black Tie/Ernie) and hosts other Jewish functions and business meetings. The Villa d’Este Restaurant even goes the extra mile. Guests requiring kosher meals need only provide 24 hours notice. Breakfast will be brought to your room, with lunch and dinner served in the dining room. This option has greatly increased the number of Jewish guests choosing the hotel, especially those coming by car from Ontario. For more information call (800) 363-7896.

JEWISH HISTORY: People might be surprised to learn about the area’s fascinating Jewish history.

Historian Elaine Steinberg has done extensive research on this subject She recently shared her findings with the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal.

Forty years ago Steinberg moved her family across the Ile aux Torte Bridge and never looked back. There are 24 municipalities in the MRC. Steinberg says she moved her family off-island to accommodate her lifestyle. “The Hudson area was well known for its horsey activities,” she says. “I was a young mom with a stable of horses, a menagerie of dogs, a passion for gardens and was teaching half days at Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools in Montreal.”

Given that Steinberg was the first Jewish member of certain clubs associated with Hudson, people assumed that the Steinbergs were one of the first Jewish families throughout all of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. That was until two years ago when Jean Luc Brazan, archivist at Centre d’ histoire de la Presqu’ile in Vaudreuil, chanced upon an early nineteenth century notarial will of a Jew living in the region. It was the sign she needed to begin doing some research.

Descendants shared photos and family lore while village storekeepers had stories to tell as well. Stephan the butcher turned out to be the guardian of the oral story, maintaining a tradition of handing down stories from one generation to another. “Villagers showed me photos, opened their homes and told stories of a Jewish pedlar,”

For reasons unknown, Vaudreuil -Soulanges Jewish history was left unattended, says Steinberg. “When I returned to reclaim it, our history was in a strange state,” she noted. “Sometimes other cultures had claimed it, or it was edited out; or it became a myth by virtue of unresolved facts.”

Despite living in various villages on different dates, the pioneer families shared certain tendencies. They affiliated with a synagogue, stimulated the village economy, were figuratively embraced by their rural community and educated their children to the benefit of Montreal at large and the Jewish community therein.

Steinberg still lives in Vaudreuil West, on the doorstep of Hudson where her children grew up “Although Jewish homes are dotted throughout the region, I think the St. Lazare municipality is the new Jewish frontier,” she says. “It has the highest density and a Chabad rabbi since 2010. Rabbi Nechum Labkowski. It is not far from Dollard des Ormeaux, about 20 minutes, where a lot of Jews live.”
In fact, there are some 200 Jewish families who affiliate with the St. Lazare Chabad

“Strong communities grow on the foundation of stories, of having a sense we stand on the shoulders of ancestors,” Steinberg says. “Heritage gives us pride of place, a right to be and the right to return as we say in Israel. The ‘past’ and ‘future’ make good partners. The younger generation need to hear this. Recently a youngster from the Jewish community indicated to me that she stored greater value in the future than the past.

DEVELOPMENT: Vaudreuil–Dorion continues to gain notice as cost efficient and quality place to live. Developments like Les Perles de la Gare at the corner of Emile Bouchard (formerly André Chartrand) and Les Perles sur le Parc on Toe Blake Street are attracting a lot of attention.

A sophisticated contemporary complex designed by architect Karl Fischer, Les Perles de la Gare includes three, six storey buildings all interconnected underground in one large indoor parking garage. The first phase of the project, a 58 unit mix of one, two and three bedroom units with private balconies, is complete and fully occupied. Developpement Diamant has broken ground on the second phase while work on the third will come soon after. The latter two will have 50 units. A special amenity building is open now and includes a magnificently large indoor pool, a modern gym, a changing room, a party/play room. The roof top will be fully landscaped as an outdoor garden.

The units range from 717 to 1609 square feet, not including the balconies. Each building has two elevators. Prices range between $181,900 and $399,000, including taxes, indoor parking and lockers.

Project manager Ariel Yudelevich says the response from those already residing in the project and others stopping by the sales office has been exceptionally positive. “You really could not ask for a much better location,” he reasons. “We are 200 metres from the AMT commuter train station, so for anyone who works in Montreal it could not be more convenient. Thus far we have seen many seniors who wanted to downsize from a home to newly married couples and singles from the West Island and the city who cannot afford the price of a condo where they live now.”
The complex is also right next to the Trans Canada Highway, a new $25 million sports complex, and ample shopping options. The main CLSC complex of Vaudreuil-Dorion, a mere 100 metres walking distance from the project, is under construction and expected to open in October 2014.
The project encompasses 50,000 square feet of court yard space, including pave-uni walkways, grass, trees, plants and a gazebo. It is all adjacent to the city bike path.

Partnering with Yudelevich, a civil engineer, are experienced property developers Joe Levine and Amos Sochaczevski. They have already worked together on another project close by called Les Perles Sur le Parc, a grouping of eight and 16 plexes built right on Emile Bouchard Street in the new section of Vaudreuil-Dorion. Each of the buildings is immediately across or a few steps away from a local green space outfitted with a new park. A hundred condos in previous phases have all been sold and occupied while in the new phase of 16 plexes on Toe Blake Street, the first building (125-127 Toe Blake) has also been sold and occupied while in the most recent phase at 131-133 Toe Blake, 30 percent is already sold and ready for delivery now. Prices in this project start at $179,900, with taxes and include exterior parking.

It was Sochaczevski who came up with the novel idea of naming many the streets after Montreal Canadiens greats. Besides Blake and Bouchard, there are Sylvio Mantha, Lorne Worsley, Claude Provost, Maurice Richard, Elmer Lach, Aurele Joliat, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante and Jean Beliveau.

Vaudreuil-Dorion is recognized as Canada’s fastest growing municipalities.

The sales office for Les Perles de la Gare, located at 5 Edouard Lalonde, is open Monday to Thursday from noon to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.and the sales office for Les Perles Sur Le Parc, located at 125 Toe Blake Street, is open on Saturday and Sunday from Noon to 5 p.m. and on weekdays by appointment.

At the present time Developpement Diamant is offering an amazing spring promotion at Les Perles sur le Parc on Toe Blake: no condo fees for two years! Meanwhile, at Les Perles de la Gare on Edouard Lalonde, free air conditioning and much more.

For more information call 450-424-3888, email info@developpementdiamant.com or log on to http://www.developementdiamant.com.

Buffalo, New York

My family and I recently spent some time in Buffalo, New York to visit friends. Buffalo (www.visitbuffaloniagara.com) is the commercial, political and entertainment hub of an eight-county region of western New York State consisting of nearly 1.6 million people. Located at the easternmost end of Lake Erie, overlooking the Niagara River, Buffalo is just across the Peace Bridge from Ontario.

Buffalo is only a 20-minute drive to and from Niagara Falls and its array of world class tourist attractions, including the Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat and the Cave of the Winds, a web of wooden catwalks and staircases accessed through a tunnel in the rock behind the American Falls that provide spectacular up-close views of the cataract.

WHAT TO DO: Retail destinations include malls like the Walden Galleria, Boulevard Mall, Eastern Hills Mall, Fashion Outlets of Niagara and the McKinley Mall, as well as eclectic and charming shopping districts such as Buffalo’s Elmwood Village, Hertel Avenue, Williamsville, Clarence Center and the village of East Aurora. If you want to check out a quaint little town, take a drive to Hamburg with its neat downtown area of shops and one big movie house.

How much time do you have? The Buffalo area has outstanding theatre, a world-class orchestra, architecture tours, nightlife along the resurgent Chippewa Street and one of the world’s top collections of modern art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Sports lovers will find Buffalo Bills football, Buffalo Sabres hockey and Buffalo Bisons baseball, as well as major college football, basketball and hockey. For people with an appetite, there are a wealth of charming bistros and restaurants serving local specialties such as “Buffalo” chicken wings, as well as truly affordable fine cuisine.

Nearby attractions include Darien Lake, New York State’s largest amusement park; the “Grand Canyon of the East” at Letchworth State Park; the internationally-renowned Victorian village at the Chautauqua Institution; the Erie Canal; the oldest buildings on the Great Lakes at Old Fort Niagara; the Seneca Niagara Casino and the Genesee Country Village and Museum, the country’s third-largest living history museum.

Among some of the family attractions to look out for are the Buffalo Zoo, the Buffalo Museum of Science, Explore ‘n’ More Children’s Museum, the Amherst Museum, Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, Martin’s Fantasy Island Amusement Park, the Aquarium of Niagara, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, Old Fort Niagara and the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

We saw a movie at the Regal Transit Center Stadium 18 & IMAX at 6707 Transit Road in Williamsville, a mere 10 minutes from our hotel. I always enjoy seeing a movie at the Regal chain (www.regmovies.com). As the name of the complex says, this is stadium seating. There is a large parking lot and very friendly staff.

For special needs patrons, most of the movies shown offer closed captioned equipment upon request. There are listening devices for the hearing impaired and wheelchair access. Go to their website and at the bottom of the homepage under Theatres, click on the Captioning and Descriptive Video link. This page will provide you with a list of theatres, sorted by state. Click on the state in which your theatre is located. This page will provide a list of what movies are being shown that offer the captioning and descriptive audio, as well as their show times. If you go online to Fandango.com and locate the theatre, movie and showtime the website will list if closed captioning is available for that performance. Upon arriving at the theatre location, printed materials are available that explain how to use the closed captioning system. Staff members and managers are knowledgeable on the closed captioning system and can assist with any specific questions you may have.

Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) operates the largest and most geographically diverse theatre circuit in the United States, consisting of 7,342 screens in 576 theatres in 42 states along with Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and the District of Columbia.

WHERE TO STAY: In terms of accommodations, we were very fortunate to come across the brand new Staybridge Suites Buffalo Amherst, at 1290 Sweet Home Road, adjacent to the University at Buffalo –SUNY North Campus. Resting on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, the suburb of Amherst provides great access to entertainment, restaurants and attractions. Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF) is eight miles away. It turned out to be an excellent location. Having only opened on November 11, 2013, general manager Shannon Ruth, assistant GM Sarah Esposito and their team really provide a welcoming atmosphere.

This is an extended stay pet friendly hotel, which offers studios, one bedroom and two bedroom/ two bathroom suites, as well as an indoor saltwater pool, a fitness room, an in-season BBQ Pavillion with grills and complimentary guest laundry. You also get a full hot breakfast each morning, along with evening social receptions Tuesday through Thursdays. We chose the two bedroom option and for three of us it offered the kind of personal space one is not normally accustomed to during a family stay in a hotel. With a king size bed (and one amazingly comfortable reading chair) in the master bedroom, two double beds in the other and a pullout couch in the living room two families could happily share the premises. We also appreciated the 24 hour free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, juices and soft drinks, the “Great Room” where you can hang out with business associates and the “Den,” filled with books, games and lots of comfy little nooks.

Each hotel room is furnished with a 42 inch flat screen HD TV, DVD players, IPod docking stations, alarm clocks and fully equipped kitchens, complete with pots, pans and utensils. There is good workspace and wireless internet. This property even has additional storage units available on each floor.

This is the eighth property opened by the folks at Ellicott Development and over the next couple of years they plan many more. You can see the others at http://www.ellicottdevelopment.com/portfolio/hotels. They range from luxury boutique to other extended stay locales. You can call 1 877 660 8550 for reservations or do so online at www.staybridgesuites.com/amherstny.

The Staybridge Suites is well equipped for guests with special needs. This includes the public entrance, guest rooms, the registration desk, the dining area, the exercise facility, the pool and the business center. In fact, both the pool and whirlpool are furnished with lifts for the handicapped.

The hotel provides accessible self parking, van accessible self parking, communications kits with visual alarms and notification devices, TTY for guest use and closed caption televisions

DINING OUT: There are no shortages of places to dine in the area. Busy Maple Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard are minutes away and features a slew of restaurants, from Denny’s and IHOP to Red Robin to one of the USA’s great seafood chains the Bonefish Grill (www.bonefishgrill.com), That was on our “to do” list for this trip, but we were not able to squeeze it into the schedule so I will wait until we visit another town where one of their 300 plus locations exists. For kosher restaurants, log on to http://yibuffalo.org/food.html. At the Tops grocery store on Maple there is a full kosher section, including food you can take back to the hotel and enjoy.

SPECIAL NEEDS: Here is something I did not know. Buffalo is home to the only “bricks and mortar” museum in the U.S. dedicated to the history of people with disabilities called The Museum of disABILITY History. It is located at 3826 Main Street. Visitors and those who see its travelling exhibits, enjoy wide-ranging topics like disability and pop culture, the wide world of disability and sports, and the evolution of adaptive equipment, among many others, illustrated by photos, rare books and historic artifacts – truly a unique experience. Group tours are available. To schedule a tour, call 716-629-3626, 716-629-3626 or log on to http://museumofdisability.org.

Toronto Downtown

There is no question about it. Toronto (www.seetorontonow.com), Canada’s largest city, is a great place to spend time at any point during the year. My family and I go there at least once a year, generally staying in the downtown area. Between the multiple attractions, live musical theatre, great shopping and fine dining opportunities there is never a dull moment.

HOCKEY HALL OF FAME: For more than two decades I have been visiting Toronto (www.seetorontonow.com) at least once a year. There were times that for work purposes I’d be there as often as once a month, yet for some reason I never made it a priority to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame (www.hhof.com). During my most recent stop, I made it a priority to place this on my agenda. It is located downtown in Brookfield Place at the corner of Yonge and Front Streets.

Visitors are told to pretty much allocate several hours to explore Toronto’s premier hockey attraction and I did just that. Montreal fans will enjoy experiencing a replica of the Canadiens dressing room at the old Forum, complete with sweaters of such greats as Ken Dryden and Guy Lafleur. There are small and large TV monitors in various sections and the Habs room you can hear the golden voice of our very own Dick Irvin narrating a film about Stanley Cup dynasties.

Guests can take shots at real-time goalies (I scored on one of five shots), stop the shots of legends Gretzky and Messier, call the play-by-play of some of hockey’s greatest goals (I chose a Guy Lafleur goal to describe), view hockey flicks like Stanley’s Game Seven, (hockey’s first 3D film and 30 minutes of great entertainment) in one of two theatres, get up close and personal with the Stanley Cup and explore the largest collection of hockey memorabilia in the world. There are separate sections for international hockey, the old World Hockey Association and vintage jerseys from teams which no longer exist. If you are a student of the game, you will spend a lot more time here. There is so much history to read and analyze, such as the space allocated for Hall of Fame inductees. This is a museum and entertainment destination like no other, one suited for the whole family and kids of all ages!

The Hockey Hall of Fame was established in 1943 to honour and memorialize individuals who have brought special distinction to the game of hockey and those who made outstanding contributions to the development and advancement of hockey anywhere in the world, and to collect, research, preserve, exhibit and promote objects, images and other historical materials connected with the game at all levels.

On June 18, 1993, the Hall opened the doors of its current home in Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place). The new $35 million facility comprised 57,000 square feet, including 10,000 square feet in the magnificently restored Bank of Montreal building, with the balance in the Shopping/Food Court Concourse level at BCE Place. This quickly established a reputation as a world-class sports and entertainment facility and one of Toronto’s prime tourist attractions, with over 500,000 visitors in its first year.

General admission is $17.50. It is $11 for youth (four to 13), $13 for seniors (65 and over) and free for children under three. The entrance is conveniently located right next to a large food court.

CANADA’s WONDERLAND: During the summer make it a point to visit Canada’s Wonderland (www.canadas-wonderland.com), this country’s premier theme park with over 200 attractions, 68 thrilling rides, North America’s greatest variety of roller coasters, and Splash Works, a 20-acre water park featuring over two million gallons of heated water fun.

ONTARIO SCIENCE CENTRE: Also check out the Ontario Science Centre (www.ontariosciencecentre.ca), home to interactive experiences with science and technology. This place not only develops and sources the world’s best exhibitions – supplemented with relevant programming to provide engaging experiences – but it aims to make a fundamental difference in the lives of visitors by providing them the skills and attributes to create a better future for the planet.

The Science Centre aims to enrich people’s lives and their understanding by engaging them in science that is important on local, national and global scales. They do this by offering top science experiences, memorable exhibitions, engaging programs and breathtaking films so that visitors can do far more than observe. They can interact and participate.

Built into the slope of the Don Valley, the Science Centre contains an array of inspiring spaces. The Weston Family Innovation Centre puts discovery, literally, in the hands of visitors – and in spring 2012 evolved with all-new, fascinating exhibits. KidSpark is the extremely popular hall designed for children under eight to learn, explore and create.

In Space, find the wonders of the galaxy, the quests of astronauts and a state-of-the-art planetarium. A Question of Truth challenges beliefs and Mindworks delves into the mysteries of the human brain. Living Earth delivers natural wonder, including a simulated tornado and a full rainforest environment. The Science Arcade is a fan favorite with a complete hands-on science experience that includes the famous electricity demo. A rich variety of programming is presented throughout the year. And of course, they have what is still Ontario’s only IMAX® Dome theatre – reason in itself to visit.

NEW SHOPPING EXPERIENCE: Premium Outlets held its grand opening in August 2013 and became the first Premium Outlet mall in Canada. With 79 centres internationally, this upscale outlet mall features over 85 stores including Kate Spade, Coach, and Michael Kors. Simon’s Premium Outlets are centres where shoppers can expect impressive collections of high quality outlet stores from the finest brands in unique outdoor settings and savings of 25 to 65 percent every day. torontopremiumoutlets.ca

King Tours operates a daily shuttle service from Toronto’s Union Station to the new Premium Outlet Shopping Centre. The $30 roundtrip ticket includes a VIP Coupon Book and schedule information. torontotours.ca/vip. Meanwhile, Vaughan Mills outlet mall and shopping centre has an $87- million redevelopment and expansion project. Once completed, Vaughan Mills will
feature 19 major tenants and 250 stores, creating an unprecedented retail mix in Canada within 118,000 square metres (1.27 million square feet) of retail space. The east side of the property will accommodate 50 new retailers and the centre’s interior and exterior architectural appeal will be enhanced. The opening of the expansion in 2014 will mark Vaughan Mills’ 10-year anniversary. Log on to www.vaughanmills.com.

THE ACQUARIUM: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada opened its doors to the public on October 16th, 2013. I did not see it on my most recent trip, but heard good reports. The 135,000 sq. foot (12,500 sq. metre) interactive attraction showcases more than 16,000 marine animals and over 450 species. Features include a musically accompanied jelly fish exhibit, Planet Jellies; the Dangerous Lagoon’s underwater tunnel showcasing sharks, sea turtles, and stingray; touch pools with horseshoe crabs, stingrays, and bamboo sharks; rare and unique lobsters and daily live dive shows. Log on to www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada.

MUSICALS: Thanks to the presence of Mirvish Entertainment (www.mirvish.com), Toronto is the envy of every city in Canada as it regularly has Broadway calibre productions on tap at its numerous venues in the downtown area.

WHERE TO STAY: I like to stay downtown when visiting Toronto and for my family nothing beats a two bedroom suite at The Grand Hotel and Suites (www.grandhoteltoronto.com), located at the corner of Jarvis and Dundas. This is a great area to select as a base for it is in such a dynamic location. First and foremost, the amazing Eaton Centre (www.torontoeatoncentre.com) is just a few blocks away. Besides its endless array of stores and kiosks, there is an Indigo bookstore, a number of restaurants and the busy urban eatery food court, which can serve your dinner needs at good prices on a daily basis. Dundas Square, across the street, is Toronto’s answer to Times Square and always full of action. The Theatre District is nearby. We took advantage of the hotel’s daytime shuttle service, which took us door to door wherever we wanted to go.

The Grand Hotel and Suites is only 14 years old and still looks spanking new. It features 177 extraordinary guest suites. For families, the junior two bedroom suites feature spacious living room/work areas separated from the two bedroom areas by sets of double French glass doors with vertical blinds. The bedrooms areas contain king and queen size beds, LCD TVs and dual-line telephones with data port. A separate living area contains a double sofabed, TV, DVD Player, CD Player and a work desk with a dual-line telephone. There is a fully equipped kitchenette with a microwave, fridge, coffeemaker and cutlery. We got one of the recently refurbished second floor rooms.

You can slip into a plush bathrobe, use the iron and ironing board and enjoy the convenience of the laptop size in-room safe.

There is complimentary wireless internet access in each room. Indeed this place has all of the comforts of home and more, which is why many guests capitalize on the options of extended stay packages for 21 consecutive days or more. The kitchenette is a definite bonus and something kosher guests in particular will find useful as they can prepare some of their own meals. A very large Metro supermarket is just a block and and a half away. The suite has ample cupboard space to pack away the groceries.

All guests get to enjoy a splendid breakfast buffet, free of charge, with an extensive array of items to choose from. There is also a fitness centre, the two-storey neo-classical pool indoor pool (surrounded by exquisite hand painted murals) and two whirlpools on the rooftop garden, which provides a panoramic view of Toronto. The latter is a real plus and an area guests take advantage of year-round, even with below zero temperatures. When darkness falls, movies and television shows are piped on to a large white screen.

There is 24 hour room service, twice-daily maid service, valet and underground parking , a friendly concierge, a restaurant, 10,000 square feet of meeting space and a fully equipped business centre. Shuttle services are available to anywhere in the financial core. Make sure to bring your Aeroplan card in order to earn 500 miles per night.

Having the two distinct bedrooms and the middle area was a bonus I would recommend for a family spending multiple days together in a hotel room, providing just the necessary privacy.

DINNER: The Shore Club (www.theshoreclub.ca) on Wellington Street turned out to be a real treat. It is owned by noted restaurateur David Aisenstat, who was born and bred into the 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 and Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) in downtown Vancouver

A vibrant restaurant and cocktail bar offering up lively ambiance, The Shore Club (which also has an Ottawa locale) is memorable for its atmosphere, professional service and outstanding cuisine. Located in the new RBC Dexia Centre, the restaurant is situated in Toronto’s bustling Entertainment District and is just steps away from prominent cultural venues such as Roy Thomson Hall, David Pecaut Square and TIFF Bell Lightbox, making it an ideal pre-performance dinner destination. It’s also within walking distance of the financial district, Rogers Centre and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.Valet parking is available next door at the Ritz Carlton.

My family and I had dined at Joe Fortes last summer, so we knew we were in for an outstanding culinary experience. We started off by sharing an amazing Single Tier Seafood Tower featuring a king crab dip, won ton, oysters, clams, mussels and jumbo shrimp while also opting for the grilled marinated wild mushrooms. The menu includes numerous other sumptuous choices such as fried calamari, steamed clams, dungeness crab cake, apple cider smoked salmon and vanilla-battered prawns. There are a number of soups and salads. As for the main courses, you have a choice between seafood specialties such as salmon wellington, maple-glazed king salmon, smoked Alaskan black cod, herb-dusted sea bass and stuffed rainbow trout and steakhouse favorites like the New York strip, filet mignon, braised short ribs and double-cut lamb chops. As for sides and add-ons, there are no less than 21 selections from mashed potatoes and steakhouse fries to tempura-battered onion rings, fresh asparagus and braised fennel. We all went the steak and lobster route, enjoying every morsel of each. Yes, we saved just enough room for some of the home made desserts : a spectacular Black Forest cake and some keylime pie.

With its luxurious, contemporary décor, The Shore Club elevates dining to a true feast for the senses. The interior, curated by renowned designer Elaine Thorsell, pays homage to art deco ocean liners, boasting soaring ceilings, a palette of cool blue and green hues and stunning original artwork.

An interesting collection of artwork adorns the wood panel and suede walls. Whether guests are in the cocktail bar, main restaurant or dining room, beautiful works of art complement the ambiance, impeccable service and classic surf and turf fare.
The lounge features a spectacular work by celebrated Canadian artist David Bierk, whose paintings incorporate both eclectic and well-known works by masters such as Vermeer, Ingres and Manet. In this case, he draws inspiration from ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, altering the scale of the original and juxtaposing it with his own moody, turbulent landscape that evokes similar scenes by connoisseurs of the genre such as Turner.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for a really fun place to spend the evening, then head to Dave & Busters (www.daveandbusters.com) at 120 Interchange Way in Vaughn. This gigantic restaurant/arcade/bar had a $3 million renovation last summer and added several hundred new seats for dining, meaning it can accommodate close to 3,000 people at a time. Enjoy the fun menu and then head out to test out the endless array of games. At one time there was reportedly talk that a D&B would surface at the downtown Pepsi Forum in Montreal. We are still waiting.

Burlington, Ontario

During the course of my life I have visited Burlington, Vermont many times, while never setting foot in Burlington, Ontario (http://www.tourismburlington.com). That all changed recently when en route to Buffalo, New York, we decided it would be nice to stop over somewhere on the way.

Burlington is conveniently located between Toronto and Niagara Falls, at the centre of southern Ontario’s “Golden Horseshoe” and has a population of 175,000.

There are some people I know who base themselves in the Burlington area when visiting Toronto. The Royal Botanical Gardens are a draw, so is hiking on the nature trails, bird watching, museums, and the galleries at the Burlington Art Centre and presentations at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Spencer Smith Park is the large waterfront park where the pier, discovery landing (pond, rink, and restaurant) and major festivals are held.

Looking ahead, the sweetness of Mother Nature launches spring in Burlington with the Maple Syrup Festival at Bronte Creek Provincial Park and Mountsberg Conservation Area. It’s the season to engage your sense of smell and sight with the effervescent lilacs, daffodils and more than 100,000 tulip blooms, all bursting into colour at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

In the summer the waterfront and downtown come to life with the annual Sound of Music Festival. Canada’s largest free music festival kicks off summer festivities the week leading up to Father’s Day. Stroll the downtown streets, lakeside boardwalk or Waterfront Trail; enjoy an invigorating mix of acclaimed Canadian and international performers, and emerging performers on bistro patios and the waterfront stages. There is also rock, jazz, folk, roots, pop, blues, Celtic, country and children’s entertainment – musically something for everyone. And there are many other festivals: watersports, boating, golf and outdoor activities to enjoy at local parks and beaches. Burlington also has a swimmable and sandy beach, something which really intrigues me for a future summer visit. The Beachway Park Pavilion provides change rooms, outdoor showers, seasonal concession facilities featuring the snack shack and year round washrooms. Amenities at the beach include the pavilion, parking, a pay phone, a playground, and lots of sun, sand and water. Yes, I will have to make a return trip.

Go to www.tourismburlington.com for more details.

WHERE TO STAY: I am a huge fan of the Homewood Suites brand of hotels, having stayed there on trips to Washington, Chicago and Dover (New Hampshire). Well we were fortunate to find one in Burlington at 975 Syscon Road, right next to a Hilton Garden Inn owned managed by the same Westmont Hospitality Group. There is free outdoor parking.

The spacious suites come complete with fully equipped kitchens, including a two-burner stove and full-size refrigerator. Guests can choose between studios or one or two-bedroom suites featuring separate living and sleeping areas. You can relax with a coffee in front of the fire in the hotel lodge area and grab any last-minute items at their 24-hour convenience store. Pets up to 25 pounds are welcome here. There is complimentary high-speed wireless internet access and a heated indoor pool.

Mornings start out with a hot full breakfast while complimentary evening dinner and drinks are offered as well Monday through Thursdays between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. which proved to be very convenient when we checked in. They even offer a complimentary grocery shopping service.

Easily accessible from the Q.E.W (at Burloak Drive) and near Highways 403 and 407, the hotel is located in downtown Burlington right on Lake Ontario, minutes away from an extensive selection of restaurants, boutique shopping and popular attractions such as the Lion Safari Ontario.

The hotel has a mobility and hearing accessible non-smoking one bedroom suite featuring one King bed and a roll-in-shower. This suite also has a visual alarm and notification devices for the doorbell or door knock and incoming telephone calls. The kitchen, built to lower scale, is fully equipped down to utensils, and includes a full-size refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher and twin burner stove. The dining area can easily double as workspace. This suite provides a private bedroom with a HDTV and a separate living area features a full-size sleeper sofa, chair and HDTV.

DINING OUT: When looking for a good restaurant look no further than next door and the Hilton Garden Inn where the Great North American Grill has much to offer. It serves authentic American cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located in the main floor pavilion, the restaurant offers an array of cuisine that changes with the seasons. The chef offers a “daily special” which includes a unique three-course dinner. You can choose from the extensive wine menu or enjoy a cocktail in the lounge area, complete with plasma television, or during warm periods relax outdoors on one of the patios, just off the restaurant. Not far from the hotel, on Burloak Drive, I discovered Pizza Nova (www.pizzanova.com). This is part of an Ontario chain. The thin crust large pizza we ordered was out of this world.

Vancouver, B.C.

I recently returned from a trip to Vancouver (www.tourismvancouver.com). It was my first time back in the province of British Columbia’s largest city 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, and boasts 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.

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

We were fortunate to discover a new spot, the Sunset Inn & Suites (www.sunsetinn.com) raises the bar on your baseline expectations. Located at 1111 Burnaby, their long list of amenities gives you more for less. Hotels often promote “extra” services that will raise the cost of your stay. A real bonus was being so close to the epicenter of the Honda Celebration of Light, the largest offshore fireworks competition in the world. It takes place over three nights at the end of July and beginning of August attracting about 1.5 million people. This year’s competing countries were United Kingdom, Canada and Thailand.

The executive one-bedroom suites are one of the newest offerings at the property. They have been extensively redecorated and offer a luxurious, relaxing setting that is more similar to home than hotel. These spacious apartment-style accommodations have a luxurious king size four seasons Enlighten Series by Spring Air, which are also the very first beds to be certified as “Asthma and Allergy friendly,” in the bedroom. You also have a fully equipped kitchen, a separate dining and living room with a double size sofa bed, plush bathrobes and slippers, a 42” LCD TV and DVD player in the living room, 32” LCD TV in the bedroom and a full HDTV Plus television channel lineup on both the living room and bedroom televisions. There is also an ipod / iphone player and charger clock radio, wall mounted air conditioning units in both the bedroom and living room and a private balcony. Located on floors seven to 11, they have the hotel’s best partial views of Vancouver’s skyline and mountains, or of the waters of False Creek and English Bay. They are approximately 650 sq. ft. in size- much larger than most hotel rooms.

The hotel has free gated parking for one vehicle during your stay, a true rarity for downtown Vancouver; a locked bike room; new and greatly improved high speed wireless and hard wired internet; a continental breakfast you can take back to your room, a daily newspaper delivered to your door and free local calls. Soon after checking in we had a minor question about something in our room and called the front desk. They said someone would come up. There was a knock on the door and general manager Michael Wright came by personally to address our concerns. I was most impressed. Michael has been with the hotel for 14 years, arriving via the former CP Hotels chain, and has played a critical role in raising its level of service.

Unquestionably, the Sunset Inn & Suites gives you all the best perks, complimentary with your stay. Centrally located, it allows you to explore the city’s best attractions by foot. You are also surrounded by restaurants, grocery stores, dry cleaners, banks and more. Nestled on the edge of the West End neighborhood of downtown Vancouver, you are just steps away from the beach as well as many Vancouver landmarks: Stanley Park, the seawall, Robson St., Granville Island, and Vancouver’s business district, as well as trendy shops, theatres, movies, groceries, and the Aquatic Centre for fitness. The hotel’s neighborhood also has a wide selection of every type of restaurant, from Japanese to West Coast to Seafood – casual or formal.

For more information call toll-free at 1-800-786-1997 (within North America). The main entrance and the first level garage are both handicapped accessible.

CAPILANO SUSPENSION BRIDGE: The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (www.capbridge.com) is one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions. Just minutes from the bustle of downtown Vancouver, the attractions here offer a unique mix of adventure, history and culture making this Vancouver tourist attraction a complete BC experience.

Originally built in 1889, the bridge stretches 450 feet (137 m) across and 230 feet (70 m) above Capilano River. Much has been added to the 27 acre park. The two year old Cliffwalk is the park’s newest attraction – a cantilevered walkway clinging to the granite cliff high above Capilano Canyon. Treetops Adventure features seven suspension bridges through the evergreens taking you up to 100 feet (30m) above the forest floor, offering a unique squirrel’s eye perspective of the forest. Guided nature tours, the Kids’ Rainforest Explorer program and the Living Forest exhibit enhance this unique rainforest encounter. You can also enjoy seasonal musical entertainment and First Nations culture. Be sure to take photos at the Totem Park and with the Capilano Tramps. Top it off with a visit to the gift shop full of quality merchandise.

At Treetops, visitors venture from one magnificent Douglas fir tree to another on a series of elevated suspension bridges, some reaching as high as 100 feet (30 m) above the forest floor. Guided nature tours and the Kids’ Rainforest Explorer program are some of the Vancouver activities that enhance this unique rainforest encounter. Recognized for extraordinary innovation with national and provincial tourism and engineering awards, a walk on Treetops Adventure has emerged as one of Vancouver’s quintessential activities.

The holiday season on the North Shore means that it is time for Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. This winter celebration of light has become a very popular family tradition. With a zillion sparkling lights adorning the Bridge, Rainforest and Cliffwalk, this annual winter event ensures the holidays are merry and bright. From Saturday, November 30, 2013 until Saturday, January 4, 2014, guests will be treated to the ultimate seasonal sensory celebration, including gingerbread cookie decorating, seasonal music from the Holiday Band, glass ornament blowing with Malcolm Macfadyen and of course, the splendor of magical twinkling lights throughout the park. Proceeds from admission will be donated to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund. Admission prices range from $12 to $34.95 depending upon the season. There is a free shuttle service from downtown.

GROUSE MOUNTAIN: After experiencing the Capilano Suspension Bridge, we headed a little further up the road to Grouse Mountain (www.grousemountain.com). This spot offers the perfect destination for a truly rewarding and memorable experience. Here there are a variety of cultural, educational and outdoor adventures to choose from. Most of Grouse Mountain’s summer and winter activities are complimentary with an admission ticket.

We began by taking the Skyride up the mountain. High above towering Douglas firs, breathtaking views of the city of Vancouver, sparkling Pacific Ocean, Gulf Islands, and snowy peaks unfold as you take this journey. North America’s largest aerial tramway system is your gateway to the majestic nature of The Peak of Vancouver, and an experience in itself. Whether you’re in search of the perfect photo, or a picturesque dinner at The Observatory, your adventure begins with the Skyride. It operates 365 days a year, departing every 15 minutes from 8:45am to 10:00pm. In summer months, the first downhill Skyride departs at 7:30am.A round trip Skyride is included with an Alpine Experience ticket or annual membership.

Once up there, we headed directly to a fabulous show where some special birds were the stars: a falcon, an owl and a hawk. Guides spoke about their respective backgrounds and even had them do some tricks for us. Right next door was the bear habitat, with two grizzlies protected from the public by electric fences. We watched as they walked about, ate grass, lay on their backs and inched closer than we expected to folks with cameras in hand.

The Eye of the Wind, meanwhile, is inspiring and revolutionary. This is the world’s first and only wind turbine that allows you to stand in a clear glass view POD at the top of the tower, three metres from its massive, rotating blades. Stand in awe of 360-degree views as you come face to face with the future of responsible energy. The scenic Peak Chairlift will transport you to the apex of Grouse Mountain in a ride time of 14 minutes. At the summit, you will be amazed by a spectacular panorama that reveals the beauty and scale of Vancouver, and the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean as it graces the coastline for as far as the eye can see.

THE AQUARIUM: At the Vancouver Aquarium (www.vanaqua.org) you come to face-to-fin with over 70,000 animals, including beluga whales, steller sea lions, dolphins, seals and more! Enjoy the dolphin and whale shows, sea otter feeds, and shark dives. Free-roaming animals abound in their popular Amazon Gallery. For a unique hands-on adventure, ask about the Animal Encounters program. You can call their easy to remember phone number – 604.659.FISH

The Aquarium has developed a reputation as a cutting edge organization with the capability to respond to changing conservation and aquatic protection needs through diversity and growth. From a 9,000 square foot (830 square metres) facility in Stanley Park, with seven employees on opening day in 1956 (five more had to be hired the day after the opening to cope with the crowds), the Aquarium has grown to over 100,000 square feet (9,000 square metres) and over 400 employees. New construction, in fact, is now underway.

Purchasing tickets online is a great way to speed up your access to all that the Aquarium has to offer. This is a self-supporting, non-profit society dedicated to effecting the conservation of aquatic life through display and interpretation, education, research and direct action. Your entrance admission supports their conservation and research efforts. Admission prices range from $19 to $30.

Visitors with a disability or special needs can request a 50 percent discount off of the general admissions price, or a free attendant when paying full price admissions. Attendants with children under three with a disability can request a 50 percent discount off the attendants’ general admissions price. There is also a special accessibility window.

THE PNE: 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 my favorite ride. We all got soaked to the skin, but lined up three times to experience it again and strike just the right pose to purchase one of those promotion photos. 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. The “Kids Playce” has a variety of tamer rides, including the merry-go-round, KC’s Raceway, 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. The PNE is wheelchair accessible. Disabled access is provided at one bathroom stop near the midway.

This place is a lot fun and I would highly recommend you spend the day there.

WATERPARK: Cultus Lake Waterpark (www.cultus.com) is a one hour and 20 minute drive from Vancouver. We made the trip five years ago and decided to do so again this time, but go a bit later and by arriving at 2:30 p.m. we took advantage of a reduced rate.

BEACHES: For families like mine who 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. Our favorite spot was Third Beach in Stanley Park, where the tide often does not come up until mid afternoon. The water is fairly warm here. Just a bit up the road is Second Beach, which also has a large public swimming pool. Kitsilano Beach Park, located practically downtown, features one of the largest swimming pools I have ever seen.

THEATRE UNDER THE STARS: If you are planning a summer visit to Vancouver, then you must include Theatre Under the Stars (www.tuts.ca) at the Malkin Bowl. The program’s best of Broadway musicals have been delighting audiences in Stanley Park since 1940. Every July and August they present two wonderful productions on alternating nights. The summer of 2013 featured Legally Blonde and How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying on the stage. My family and I saw the former, purchasing our tickets online. Reserved tickets are $29 to $42 for adults and $24 to $29 for children and youth. We really enjoyed this our second experience of watching theatre “under the stars.” The atmosphere on the warm summer night was superb. A better backdrop you will not find. The show was of high quality, including the acting, singing, sets and costumes. Unquestionably this is a well oiled machine. If you are in Vancouver for a few weeks during the summer and have young children or teens, consider the theatre camp for those aged eight to 18.

Here is a tip. Bring insect repellant so the flies don’t get to you. Stay tuned to their website to see what productions are planned for 2014. The Malkin Bowl is located right at the entrance of Stanley Park. It is easily accessible for wheelchairs.

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 – 57 year old Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium. There are 5,187 seats here, every one of them dandy. The Canadians are the short season rookie “A” ball affiliate of the major league Toronto Blue Jays, having switched over two years ago from the Oakland Athletics.

The Canadians play at the historic Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, one of the most iconic sports venues in Canada. Nestled in front of Queen Elizabeth Park, ‘The Nat’ marks its 62nd year as the home to professional baseball. With one of the few remaining manual scoreboards in Minor League Baseball, a narrow foul territory, and portraits of baseball great like Joe DiMaggio lining the walls, fans at Vancouver Canadians games are treated to a unique mix of nostalgia and exciting sports action.

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. On the night I attended, the Developmental Disabilities Association (develop.bc.ca) had a special promotion for which more than 200 of its workers and sponsors were in attendance. Official Jason Smith told me the Canadians are great supporters of his cause. The Developmental Disabilities Association is a community living agency that provides over 50 community-based programs and services to children, adults and families with developmental disabilities in Vancouver and Richmond. They create extended networks of support, invest in individual needs, and strive for an inclusive and safe community. Over 1,600 individuals and families in the Vancouver and Richmond area are serviced by the Developmental Disabilities Association every year.

THE ARTS CLUB: For live theatre, check out the magnificent Arts Club Theatre Company (www.artsclub.com) at1585 Johnston Street next to the public market. Shows are Tuesday through Sundays at what is called Western Canada’s largest not for profit organization of its kind, having been in operation for 49 years. I spoke with Bill Millerd, the managing director. He recounted with pride how professional theatre is offered at three venues: the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage; Granville Island Stage; Revue Stage and travels the province.

“Vancouver is a great theatre town,” Millerd says.

Each year, over a quarter of a million people experience the best in professional theatre Popular productions range from musicals and contemporary comedies to new works and classics. The Arts Club also expands its audiences outside Vancouver though a three-show mini-season presented at venues around BC . The 2012-2013 Arts Club season scheduled six productions at the historic 650-seat Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage at Granville and W. 12th, five productions on scenic Granville Island at the vibrant, newly renovated 450-seat Granville Island Stage, and three productions in the intimate, 198-seat Revue Stage adjacent to Granville Island’s Public Market.

The Arts Club of Vancouver was founded in 1958 as a private club for artists, musicians, and actors, and officially became the Arts Club Theatre in 1964 when the company opened its first stage, a converted gospel hall at Seymour Street and Davie. The company’s 27 years at Seymour Street are an important part of Vancouver and Canadian theatre history. Millered notes that the tiny 250-seat stage helped launch the careers of Canadian talents such as Michael J. Fox, Bruce Greenwood, Ruth Nichol, Janet Wright, Winston Rekert, Lally Cadeau, and Brent Carver, while introducing Vancouver to works by Canadian playwrights such as Michel Tremblay, David Freedman, and Carol Bolt. Productions by newcomers Sherman Snukal (Talking Dirty), Nicola Cavendish (It’s Snowing on Saltspring), Morris Panych (7 Stories), and John Lazarus (The Late Blumer) also premiered there. The original Arts Club Seymour Street Stage was closed for demolition in 1991.

The company added the current Granville Island Stage in 1979, and the smaller Revue Stage next door in 1983. Since it opened, the Granville Island Stage has featured a popular mix of musicals, classics, dramas, contemporary comedies and premieres. Innovative versions of classics such as Comedy of Errors; colourful Canadian hits such as Billy Bishop Goes to War; dramas like Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune and comedies including Lend Me a Tenor, have brought the Granville Island Stage numerous awards and an excellent community following. The Revue Stage was home to some of Vancouver’s all-time favourite musicals, revues, and comedies, including Ain’t Misbehavin’, before it was leased to the Vancouver Theatre Sports League in 1997. After an extensive renovation, the Revue Stage re-opened as an Arts Club venue in 2010 with the world premiere of Anosh Irani’s My Granny the Goldfish, and will be home to three more productions this season.

The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage opened to the public with Dean Regan’s record-setting production of Swing in October 1998, and it is now considered the company’s flagship venue. An intimate version of a Broadway or London classic theatre, this elegant venue has permitted the company to move into the exciting arena of producing larger musicals, 20th-century classics, and acclaimed productions from around the world.

No history of the Arts Club would be complete without a mention of Millerd. A graduate of the University of British Columbia and the National Theatre School, he first joined the Arts Club in 1969 as a stage manager and has remained in the role of artistic managing director since 1972. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1994 for his contribution to Canadian theatre.

While we were in town, the Arts Club was presenting the Tony Award winning Avenue Q. Originally conceived as a television series, Avenue Q’s “autobiographical and biographical” coming of age parable was developed as a stage production at the 2002 National Music Theatre Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. It opened Off Broadway in March 2003, co produced by The New Group and the Vineyard Theatre. After extending its run four times, the show transferred to Broadway in July 2003 where it won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, won the 2003 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding New Musical, and received a nomination for the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Off Broadway Musical award. This success spawned Las Vegas and West End productions, two national tours, and a variety of international productions. With more than 2,500 performances, Avenue Q ranks 23rd on the list of longest running shows in Broadway history. The show ended its Broadway run on September 13, 2009, and then reopened Off Broadway at New World Stages in October 2009.

FLY OVER CANADA:
A few years ago my family went to Epcot Centre at Walt Disney World in Florida and experienced Soarin’, a flight simulator attraction that lifts guests on multi-passenger hang gliders for a scenic aerial tour of California. It was so realistic I had to pinch myself that I was not really on a real flight.

Now this same experience has come to Vancouver. FlyOver Canada (www.flyovercanada.com) is a breathtaking, all-ages ride like no other. Here you take off into a huge domed screen with the latest in projection and ride technology, creating a true flying experience. The flight takes you from east to west across Canada, over some of the most spectacular scenery the country has to offer. High tech special effects and a beautiful original soundtrack all combine to make FlyOver Canada an unforgettable experience. This just opened on June 29. Operating hours are 10 am to 9 pm.

This $16-million, 30-minute virtual flight ride experience is located at the Canada Place pier in the former IMAX theatre. The project has been nearly three years in the making and is financed by the Aquilini Investment Group, the owners of the NHL Vancouver Canucks. Participants, who are strapped to their seats, watch a scenic movie that fills their direct and peripheral vision. They are sprayed with mist when the movie shows a waterfall, smell trees when the movie shows a forest and feel the breeze when the movie shows a gusty landscape.

It begins with a pre-show called Uplift, produced by the Montreal-based Moment Factory. Guests of up to 60 in a group are brought into a room where they experience an audio-visual immersive show that builds context and audience anticipation prior to experiencing the main virtual flight ride.
Moment Factory’s Uplift was a feat on its own with production and development beginning a year and a half ago. Film shoots involved a small cast and a storyline that illustrates different Canadian lives at the “four corners” of the country. The pre-show is presented to guests in a custom-built room with state-of-the-art surround sound and multi-wall video projections. This adds on to Moment Factory’s growing list of more than 300 projects to date. Most recently, the company has been notably responsible for multimedia experiences in the Canada Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo, Celine Dion’s new Las Vegas show at Caesar’s Palace, Madonna’s 2012 Superbowl Halftime Show performance, and the creation of a visual environment for Bon Jovi’s world tour.

Moment Factory is no stranger to working in Vancouver either. It was responsible for several audio-visual displays during the 2010 Winter Olympics (including an interactive display at the Quebec Pavilion), the game-time visual-audio installations at Rogers Arena for the NHL Vancouver Canucks, and the permanent lighting and audio-visual projection installation on Canada Place’s five giant sails.

CAR RENTAL: In preparing for my Vancouver trip, I made the rounds with the different rental car companies. Whether I called them directly, went online or tried the Priceline.com or expedia.com routes, the prices were always much too high. Then I came across Lo-Cost Rental Car (www.locost.com), an outfit based just near the Vancouver International Airport and the best prices and customer service I can report upon.

Lo-Cost strives to be above their competition in every way possible. This includes no charge pick-up/ drop-off and seven days a week working hours, guaranteed lowest rental rates and first class multi-lingual customer service. They have been around for more than 30 years.

You can reserve online, but what I liked was the ability to speak to people on the ground and not some random operator. The hours of operation are 9 am to 6 pm weekdays; 9 am to 5 pm Saturdays and 10 am to 4 pm Sundays. After hours vehicle pick-up/drop-off options are available.

They are conveniently located at 5551 No. 3 road in downtown Richmond, directly across the street from Lansdowne Mall, steps away from Lansdowne Sky train Station on the Canada Line, five minutes from YVR Vancouver International Airport and 17 minutes away from downtown Vancouver by Sky train.

From the airport you need only give them a call and they will come pick you, your family and your luggage up from the airport free of charge

For more details call 604-303-9970 or 1-888-556-2678.

DINING OUT

JOE FORTES: There are some superb restaurants in Vancouver. Here are two in particular I strongly recommend.

First let me tell you about Joe Fortes Seafood & and Chop House (www.joefortes.ca) on downtown Thurlow Street. We were a party of five on the night we chose to dine there and this was an extraordinary dining experience from the moment we were seated on the gorgeous roof garden. This is indeed one of the city’s finest restaurants.

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 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 now Joe Fortes.

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.

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 can 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 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 three-tiered Seafood Tower on Ice, premium oysters and succulent chops, their signature dishes have become a favourite of locals, celebrities and tourists alike.

This was more than just a dinner for our group – it was an experience. We decided to share the magnificent Seafood Tower on – Atlantic lobster, chilled crab, local oysters, clams, mussels, scallop ceviche, smoked local albacore tuna and poached jumbo prawns and a couple of orders of
King crab tempura.

While we enjoyed every morsel of these appetizers, it was time to select our main courses. That was no easy task and you can check out the menu online to understand what I am talking about. Would it be seafood or beef? Four members of the group decided to have the best of both worlds – splitting the filet mignon and the most delicious cuts like butter piece of fish we’ve ever experienced – miso marinated sable fish with sides of rice and scallop potatoes. I opted for the prime rib, with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes.

Did we have room for dessert? Our server Alisha suggested we try some sweet indulgences. We agreed and along came the dessert trio – Tahitian vanilla crème brulee, tiramisu, molten center chocolate cake, brandied cherries, biscotti and vanilla gelato.

Accompany all of these culinary delights are classic cocktails or selections from their award-winning wine list. Needless to say, reservations are recommended here.

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 on Granville Island at 1535 Johnston Street.

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, Hoshi’s Sushi Bar, dinner and dancing, this is reported to be Vancouver’s most popular spot to see and be seen.

Along with your menu comes a clipboard called the Seafood Fresh Sheet, with holes punched next to the items that are fresh that day.We started off with some splendid sushi as an appetizer and also shared shrimp dumplings and cold poached prawns. For the main courses, selections varied from the amazing Mahi Mahi, the Ahi Tuna, a two pound Atlantic lobster and pan seared scallops. Open seven days a week from 5:30 p.m. onwards, we will definitely return to this spot on our next trip and hopefully try other members of the group.

Log on to www.tourismvancouver.com for complete details about this great city.

Whistler, BC

My family and I recently made our first visit to Whistler, BC (www.tourismwhistler.com), less than a two hour drive from Vancouver and one of the host cities of 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

Strolling in the village
picture: Mike Crane

The year-round population of Whistler Resort is almost 10,000 permanent residents. The elevation of the Village is 675 metres / 2,214 feet; Whistler Mountain’s elevation is 2,182 metres/7,160 feet and Blackcomb Mountain’s. As the host Mountain resort for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Whistler has recently improved accessibility throughout the Village, parks and accommodation.

The 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.

Peak2Peak
picture: Mike Crane

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. From here, hop on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola for a thrilling 11-minute ride over to Blackcomb Mountain. For a more exciting experience we opted for the silver Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which has a glass bottom. Both mountains offer a variety of hiking trails for your enjoyment. We then took a short bus ride to the 7th Heaven open air chairlift way up to the top of the mountain, enabling us to view glaciers and whole lot of summer skiing.

Whistler Summer

I was told to budget at least 90 minutes to enjoy Peak 2 Peak. Well we devoted three and a half hours to the experience and that was with bringing our own lunch to eat while we waited in line. This experience is not to be missed. 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.

ACCESSIBILITY: How accessible is Whistler? Norm DePlume broke his neck skiing at Whistler a few years ago. “I won’t go so far as to say, “No big deal,” but life rolls on, and so do I, ” DePlume says. “I’m still skiing in Whistler, laughing at jokes, calling my mother on Sundays and generally being a happy, healthy, and productive member of the community. Life rolls on.
“Admittedly, not many people think of Whistler as a place to find a lot of people with disabilities. It’s known for a rather active lifestyle and, thanks to the many after-school TV specials focusing on ‘the struggle,’ people with disabilities aren’t generally stereotyped as being all that active.
DePlume explains that while some people are born with disabilities, a large number acquire a spinal cord injury later in life. They were active before their accident and have no desire to give up on that lifestyle just because they now use a wheelchair to help them get around.
In 1999, with just a handful of equipment stored in a closet, the homegrown Whistler Adaptive Sports Program began taking people up the mountain to experience sit skiing. These days the program has grown to the point where they’re able to provide over 1,400 lessons each ski season, and have expanded into summer programs that include hiking, biking, canoeing, and kayaking.

Accessibility is built into Whistler Village with pedestrian-only streets, paved access to the Valley Trail and close proximity to transportation. The following links provide further information on getting around the town:

There is a comprehensive website for visitors with disabilities at (www.whistlerforthedisabled.com). Wheelchair accessible taxis are available from Whistler Resort Cabs – call 1.604.938.1515 to book.

The Whistler Blackcomb Mountain (WB) Peak 2 Peak Gondola is wheelchair accessible during the summer months and winter with a new sled to transport you to the Blackcomb Lodge at top during the snow season. Accessibility is an important feature of Whistler Blackcomb’s landmark project and Canada’s newest tourism icon the Peak to Peak Gondola.

ZIPTREK: Prior to this trip members of my family and I had never gone zip lining. However, upon discovering Ziptrek Ecotours (www.ziptrek.com) we felt secure enough to give it a try.

Zip Trek eco tours
picture: Mike Crane

Ziptrek Ecotours is the pioneer of zipline tours in North America! With an award winning ecological curriculum and the highest, longest, and most ziplines around, Ziptrek offers an entertaining combination of education and adventure. On the Ziptrek Bear Tour, one gets to experience stunning aerial vistas over Fitzsimmons Creek. This tour is perfect for families, groups and those who have never ziplined before. There are five incredible ziplines, joined by a network of suspension bridges, boardwalks and trails. I was quite nervous in the weeks leading up to this experience, but because the first zipline was really one for beginners it removed all of my jitters. Our two guides, Catie and Niall were fantastic and really made us all feel at ease.

Ziptrek Ecotours covers over 33 acres of diverse terrain (old growth rain forest, second growth rain forest, steep cliff faces and lush forest floor) spanning between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains and over the Fitzsimmons Creek.

Tours run throughout the day, every day of the year. Guests are encouraged to wear suitable outdoor clothing. Closed toe shoes are required. Heated and sheltered platforms minimize exposure to the elements. Tours include light stair climbing and trail walking guests must be able to walk unassisted
Guests are met by their tour guides and fitted with their harnesses and helmets before taking a complimentary 10 minute shuttle from Whistler Village to the base on Blackcomb Mountain. Guests will zipline between the two mountains directly over the river. The ziplines are gravity fed, so guests do not have to worry about controlling their own speed. The guides accompany guests on the tour, one to connect (launch platform) and one to disconnect (landing platform). The educational component provides a unique insight into the surrounding environment on both a local and global scale. Meanwhile, the ziplines provide an adrenaline rush like no other!

Pricing is $109 for adults, $89 for youth (six to 14) and $89 for seniors (65 plus). There are some other options as well.

Ziptrek is an outdoor adventure activity and operates in all weather conditions. Reservations are strongly recommended. There is a 24 hour cancellation policy, a 275 pound upper weight limit. Guest must be a minimum of 15 years old to zip without a guardian. Ziptrek will be setting up shop in Mont Tremblant, Quebec next spring.

If you are visually impaired, you can participate in this program but must have a personal guide.

WHERE TO STAY: I have always appreciated exploring Fairmont hotels. We had a great experience at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort Hotel (www.fairmont.com/whistler) , which does indeed define mountain luxury.

Pool

An all season resort destination, The Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel offers a seamless blend of year-round adventure and unsurpassed guest service for business or pleasure. With mountainside ski out the door convenience and an on-site Whistler golf course, the classic elegance of this award-winning hotel offers a modern alpine setting featuring exceptional dining, full resort amenities, a Vida Spa and Fairmont Gold – Fairmont’s exclusive lifestyle hotel experience. There are an incredible 550 rooms here (15 of which are fully handicapped accessible), an in-house reservation centre for all Whistler activities and a rental station for bikes and ski gear. A small and pretty shopping plaza is part of the facility as well, featuring an art gallery and some boutiques.

Not only is this hotel delighted to host your entire family, four-legged friends are welcome as well. Their dog-friendly program includes pet bed, bowls, special treats and menus. This also happens to be Whistler’s largest conference resort hotel, with 32,000 square feet of conference space.
We just loved the two outdoor pools, one for lap swimming and the other which connects to an indoor one. There are three whirlpools, sauna and steam rooms and two outdoor plexipave surface tennis courts. As I looked out at the mountains from my lounge chair, I thought I was in paradise.

High Speed internet connectivity is available in all guest rooms, an Ethernet network in meeting rooms and wireless internet access in public areas.
There is a spa and health club.

For dinner, the Wildflower and the Grill Room are particularly popular. At the former, their culinary team invites diners to enjoy a tantalizing showcase of locally inspired dishes and innovative classics in a warm and relaxed setting. The latter is Whistler’s newest destination for exceptional chops, steak and seafood. Our group had the pleasure of experiencing the latter. Reservations are highly recommended and they can be made online or by telephone. This is fine dining at its best, with delicious appetizers such as the heirloom tomato salad. Their eight and10 ounce tenderloins, rack of lamb and seared halibut are recommended. For the table, there is a selection of side dishes you can share. We opted for the truffled Yukon gold mashed potatoes and the sautéed BC mushrooms. For dessert, the chocolate mousse cake went over well.

Both restaurants even have a special lifestyle cuisine plus menu with very specific nutritious meals designed around select dietary needs such as diabetes, gluten free and vegan.

For a lighter bite, check out the Portobello Market & Fresh Bakery. You can also take advantage of poolside dining and order a sandwich, burger, drinks and more right from the comforts of your chair.

DINING: We heard some very good things about the Brewhouse Restaurant (http://www.markjamesgroup.com/brewhouse.html) and our party of five was not disappointed. 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. Our party of five shared some starters, the fish tacos and tuna maki roll and decided upon a few different main courses: the wild mushroom pizza, mac & cheese, a 12 ounce angus stripline and chicken & ribs. 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.

HighBrewhouse

This is part of the Mark James Group Brewery Restaurant, with others in Vancouver (Yaletown), 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. It is no surprise then that one of his main appetizers is a gigantic bowl of matzah ball soup. This not only contains a large matzah ball, but plenty of pieces of chicken and vegetables.

Sunny Isles Beach, Florida

My family and I returned to beautiful Sunny Isles Beach, Florida recently and had the good fortune to spend some time at the fabulous Acqualina Resort & Spa. This venue has been awarded one of the highest honours in the hospitality industry,  the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award.  It is one of 76 hotels to receive this recognition throughout the world and the only hotel and resort on Miami Beach.

PIAZZETTA: The one of a kind Il Mulino New York  Restaurant was ranked as an exceptional dining establishment while the Acqualina Spa by ESPA earned top marks as well. We had our first taste of the Piazzetta, a modern marketplace and beachfront Italian restaurant concept which transports guests to a town square set in South Florida Riviera amidst the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. The Tuscany-inspired marketplace and beachfront restaurant offers light dining options, bottled wines, olive oils, sauces, caviar, brick oven pizzas, crostinis, paninis, salads, meats, teas and a coffee corner boasting twenty one specialty coffees in a relaxed and inviting setting. Guests and residents get  to enjoy the luxurious surroundings of Acqualina’s indoor and outdoor spaces while savoring in an assortment of signature dishes and offerings. Daily specials include roasted marinated chicken and grilled wild tiger shrimp. The menu is curated by Acqualina’s executive chef Christopher Blum and Chef Michael Mazza of Il Mulino New York.

At Piazzetta, guests can enjoy dine-in or take-away the finest fresh, prepared and gourmet foods, as well as purchase a variety of merchandise, including Il Mulino’s famous pasta sauces. This Italian market also offers a wine corner featuring a wide variety of wines from around world with an emphasis on private vintages.  Piazzetta at Acqualina is open to the public Monday  to Sunday from 11a.m.  to 11 p.m.  .

THE RESORT: The Acqualina boasts 4.5 beachfront acres with 400 feet of stunning Atlantic coastline, 188 residences, 97 impeccable guestrooms and suites, the 20,000 square-foot ESPA oceanfront spa, oceanfront restaurants, four swimming pools and an innovative marine biology-based children’s AcquaMarine program. Next door construction is underway on a brand new complex called The Mansions of Acqualina.

The Acqualina is owned by ‘the other Trumps.”  Brothers Jules and Eddie, the sons of a South African tailor known as “Willie,” have no financial, philosophical or even familial ties to Donald Trump. Over the years they have quietly built an empire on luxury real estate development, one which includes Williams Island (named after their dad), an 82-acre posh preserve for the rich in Aventura and Luxuria in Boca Raton, seaside condos that include flat-screen televisions in the bathrooms.  .

For more information on Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach, log on to www.acqualina.com. For reservations, please call 305-918-6777 or 888-804-4338.

IL MULINO: Il Mulino New York (www.ilmulino.com) by far ranks as my number one dining experience anywhere each year. Renowned for its bustling and energetic atmosphere, market fresh daily specials, extensive selection of fine Italian wines and an impeccably polished wait staff,  this is one of  more than a dozen (and counting) Il Mulino locations. It has already become  a much sought-after establishment, frequented by both locals and visitors in the know.    

The 110-seat indoor restaurant spreads onto a 24-seat veranda overlooking the ocean.  Service here is absolutely spectacular. Experienced Maitre ‘D  Tino Ponticorvo is there to greet you while regional director of operations Jason Rodriguez  is often on site and your contact to book private functions.

The menu draws upon the rustic and hearty Abruzzi region in Italy. From the moment you walk into the establishment, your party is showered with attention as Tino and several severs bring you complimentary antipasto tastings of soppresatta, bruschetta, reggiano parmesan, fried zucchini. mussels and garlic/cheese bread sticks.  There is such a wide variety of selections to choose from, it is no wonder they have regulars who come here several times a week. We arrived at 7 p.m. and the place was a bit quiet. Within a half hour there was not an empty seat in the house. Our party began by enjoying the appetizers and ordering some salads and their signature tortellini soup.  For the main course, we needed a lot of time to decide.  Would it be the veal, some fresh fish, langoustines, pasta, chicken, steak or lamb chops? One person opted for the dover sole, giving a huge thumbs up. Two of us shared the generous portion of lamb chops, accompanied by the best rosemary potatoes I can remember in a long time. Two others feasted on the langoustines, with risotto.

The wine list includes over 200 selections of Italian varieties and guests are offered a complimentary glass of signature house grappa prepared by Tino himself. This year’s newest creation was coconut and I must say I found it quite tasty. Also on the dessert menu, the flourerless chocolate cake, the cheesecake and the tiramisu are to die for. Ask for the sampler, which includes a tasting of all of their desserts on one tray.   Il Mulino New York is right by the main lobby of the Acqualina. There is valet parking. The address is  17780 Collins Avenue. Be sure to make a reservation by calling 305-466-9191. You can view the menu on their website.

SUNNY ISLES: The beautiful community of Sunny Isles Beach, known as Florida’s Riviera, is  located on a barrier island in the northeast corner of Miami-Dade County, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Intracoastal Waterway on the west.  Located midway between downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, with easy access to business centers, Sunny Isles also includes entertainment, sports and recreational facilities, and tourist attractions.

Almost one million vacationers visit Sunny Isles Beach annually to enjoy the two and a half mile-long fine sand beach and outdoor amenities such as water sports, boating, fishing, and tennis as well as the abundant shopping, dining and entertainment options nearby. The landmark fishing pier is a local favorite while the beautiful Samson Oceanfront Park provides a children’s play area and space to relax; meet friends and enjoy the sunrise. The city is experiencing a major redevelopment renaissance on the east side of Collins Avenue, the main thoroughfare. Zoning laws ensure that view corridors and beach access pathways will always offer residents a life with a view. To the west of Collins Avenue, the City is building parks, improving the infrastructure and laying the groundwork for future redevelopment.

JEWELRY EXCHANGE: I experienced something new during this trip to Florida – the International Jewelry Exchange on Biscayne Boulevard in Aventura. This well secured venue features an endless array of kiosks with some of the nicest jewelry you have ever seen. The novelty here is that you can shop around for the best quality and price. Our family’s search stopped at Station 19 and Jewelry by Marsha (www.jewelrybymarsha.com). Marty Yoskowitz has been in business here for 37 years and by far offers the best deals.  You can email him at info@jewelrybymarsha.com.

Boca Raton Shopping and Dining

While staying in the Miami area recently, I convinced the family to maken a day trip to Boca Raton. It had been more than a decade since I visited the area, but let me confess that I needed an excuse to dine at the fabulous Legal Sea Foods  restaurant, which I had experienced last fall in Boston

Located in Palm Beach County, “Boca,” is known for its affluent social community and high income demographic.  Before embarking upon our amazing dinner at Legal Sea Foods, we explored the different shopping options.

The Town Center (http://www.simon.com/mall/town-center-at-boca-raton) on Glades Road is considered to  one of South Florida’s top luxury shopping destinations. It features an outstanding mix of upscale and elite specialty shops and a  lineup of six department stores – Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Sears. Among the 220 stores at Town Center, you will find The Apple Store, Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton, Tory Burch, Lilly Pulitzer and many more. Parking options are more than ample, including three parking decks and valet stations. Conveniently located off I-95 and Glades Road, you’ll find just what you need and more.

Mizner Park (www.miznerpark.com) is an upscale lifestyle center in downtown Boca. Besides upscale shops, Mizner is also composed of rental apartments and offices. The Centre for the Arts at Mizner Park is a cultural center on the north end of the development, which is embodied by an amphitheater and the Boca Raton Museum of Art. The art museum, Victor’s Antiques & Fine Arts, Addison Gallery and the luxurious iPic movie theater are the center’s anchor stores, along with highly rated restaurants Max’s Grille, Villagio, and Truluck’s. Cooper Carry designed the architecture of Mizner as a Mediterranean revival town center. Previously, the site of Mizner Park was a conventional enclosed shopping center called Boca Mall, which opened in 1974 and was redeveloped 18 years later.

The Sample Road Festival Flea Market (www.festival.com) is actually located nearby in Pompano Beach. It is actually the country’s largest indoor flea market, featuring over 500 unique stores under one roof! Aisle by aisle you’ll find everything you ever wanted and specialty items you only dreamed of finding. You can enjoy casual dining in the international food court and a retail shopping experience like no other.  The complex is a quarter-mile long.

DINING OUT:  Legal Sea Foods (www.legalseafoods.com) is located in the  Town Center on Glades Road. At one time there were also Legal locations at the Sawgrass Mills mega-mall and in West Palm Beach. The Boca franchise is strong, popular and extremely well run.

The chain was born in 1950 when George Berkowitz opened a fish market in the Inman Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He opened it adjacent to his father Harry’s grocery store Legal Cash Market where customers were given “Legal Stamps” (forerunners of S&H green stamps) with their purchases. It’s here that the “Legal” name became synonymous with quality and freshness.

In 1968, the Berkowitz family opened its first seafood restaurant, right next to the fish market. The fish was simply prepared, either broiled or fried, and served on paper plates at communal picnic tables. Despite the low-key trappings, the food was second to none and word quickly spread. This early success led to further expansion and now, six decades later with restaurants along the Eastern Seaboard, the family philosophy endures: Legal Sea Foods is a fish company in the restaurant business.

George’s son, Roger, has been at the helm since 1992 and has expanded the business into new markets while maintaining the company’s focus on its proud tradition and core values.   Besides, of course, Massachusetts, there are Legal  locales in Washington Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

The Boca restaurant has a really pretty look, complete with a large fish tank.  Make sure to ask for manager Laura Nardi, a veteran of the Legal family who makes it her business to visit every table and even assist in the service. Their selection of fresh seafood  is quite plentiful: swordfish, tuna, salmon, rainbow trout, mahi mahi, snapper, grouper, shrimp and sea scallops. Those members of our family who love lobster truly appreciate the serving method here. They take the lobster meat completely  out of the shell, saving you all of the messy cracking and separation. The choice of sides include mashed potatoes, cole slaw, rice pilaf, jasmine rice, French fries, onion strings, spinach.  Legal’s New England  clam chowder is a wise starter. The same goes for the wedge and classic Caesar salads. There are some great desserts here as well, including the three bon bons – bite size scoops of ice cream dipped in chocolate,

Opening hours here are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,  Monday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and Noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. You can call 561-447-2112 for reservations.

Albany, New York

Shopping in Albany, the capital of the State of New York, has always been a joy for my family. Crossgates Mall and the smaller, but equally impressive Colonie Center, can keep you busy for a couple of days.

We recently spent four days in Albany. With a great place to stay, excellent restaurants to choose from and, of course, the endless shopping experience, it proved to be the perfect getaway.

Albany Skyline Rejuvenate

Albany has attracted visitors for 400 years with historic sites, fabulous attractions, family-friendly amenities, and entertaining events. World-class museums, unique galleries, stunning architecture, those enticing restaurants, and welcoming accommodations can indeed keep you busy for days.  Enjoy everything from boating to skiing and biking to snow-shoeing. Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region. Within a short ride are neighboring Cooperstown and Saratoga Springs.

Be sure to check out the Million Dollar Staircase, the awe inspiring “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza and many diverse examples of historic house sites and public spaces such as the Pruyn House and the first Shaker Meeting House. You can visit the magnificent Gothic structure, now the Administrative Center of the State University of New York, the Delaware and Hudson, and the Albany Evening Journal Buildings, located at the base of State Street.

There is an abundance of professional theatre, music, dance, sports, and a backyard full of recreational splendors. As the crossroads of the northeast, Albany is easily accessible by car, train, and plane and is located less than three hours from New York and  Boston. I have also heard very good things about the Albany Aqua Ducks & Trolleys (www.albanyaquaducks.com), an amphibious tour and trolley tour company featuring historic tours of Albany. The Ducks offer unique, educational and fun-filled tours. You can see the historic sites and then Splash into the Hudson River for a mariner’s view of the city’s skyline and others who call the Hudson “home” including the USS Slater and Dutch Apple Cruises. The Trolleys operate a seasonal Trolley loop tour and are available year round for charters and events. The Ducks and Trolleys are available for parades, festivals, family reunions, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate events or any special occasion that needs to be “Just Ducky!” Info: Bob Wolfgang at 518-858-9690

The Crossgates Mall is home to 250 stores, restaurants and kiosks, including big box tenants Macys, Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods and JC Penny (now called JCP).

The vast majority of entrances are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout the site.  You can rent a wheelchair at the information desk near the Macys entrance.

The Dave and  Buster’s restaurant and games and arcade chain will open its first Albany location at the Mall soon. We spent nearly seven straight hours there on a first day and went back for another three the following afternoon.

ACCOMMODATIONS: When in Albany we enjoy staying at the Cresthill Suites (www.cresthillsuites.com), an extended stay hotel located at 1415 Washington Avenue. It turned out to be most convenient for us. There were large Hannaford’s and Price Chopper grocery stores nearby, as well as plenty of restaurants, the Crossgates Mall, the Colonie Center and two movie theatre complexes. Cresthill is in fact part of a small chain, with other locales in Syracuse, NY and Wichita, Kansas.

albany sandbox world

I would strongly recommend this place for families. Our spacious two bedroom suite had all of the comforts of home, including a fully equipped kitchen with a fridge and appliances and free wireless internet. We had a comfortable living room, with a couch, chair, table and chairs, three flat screen TVs and plenty of cupboard space.  Whether you’re staying for a night or a month in any one of these suites, the hotel offers an array of services to accommodate your travel needs. In the morning, you can enjoy a complimentary breakfast, and in the evening, a light fare reception and social hour is available every Monday through Thursday.  There is daily housekeeping, same-day valet service, a grocery shopping service, free guest laundry, a fully equipped fitness center and a seasonal courtyard with a pool, patio and grills. General Manager Lisa Druckreier notes that the 10 year old property has a regular clientele who stay there for long periods of time,  be it people working on big projects in town and in construction, those relocating, fire victims and of course vacationers who want to enjoy all of the comforts of home.  The hotel has a number of handicapped accessible rooms and handicapped parking spots at the front door. There is elevator access to each floor and level crossings in the hallways.

The hotel is currently replacing sofas, chairs, ottomans and carpets in all rooms.

I found the staff at the front desk exceptionally helpful. While the room was very comfy, I also enjoyed spending time in the large lobby area and sinking into the big sofa in front of a TV.  A self service coffee, tea and hot chocolate is available 24 hours a day. For more information call 1.888.723.1655 or email info@cresthillsuites.com. You can also register online.

WHERE TO DINE:  We had a marvelous meal at Simpson’s Grille, where five chefs have shared 83 years of experience to create menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner to tantalize even the most discriminating taste buds.  This is the type of place where sole Françoise and grilled Atlantic salmon meet New York sirloin and filet mignon. The restaurant is located at The Desmond Hotel & Conference Center, a magnificent facility at 660 Albany Shaker Road.  The Desmond is also home to the AAA four diamond-rated Scrimshaw Restaurant and The Tavern, an English style pub. There is free parking.

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I started off with a warm bowl of New England clam chowder. For the main course, we selected three different items:  the seafood penne alfredo, a combination of Alaskan crabmeat, jumbo gulf shrimp and Georges Bank sea scallops tossed in a garlic cream sauce; pesto herb sea scallops, coated with basil pesto and fresh herbs, broiled and finished with tomato vinaigrette; and a char grilled ribeye, 14 ounces, well marbled and full of flavor.  All main courses come with a signature house or Caesar salad, choice of potato or rice pilaf and the chef’s fresh vegetable of the day.

The menu also includes chicken, different fish entrees, prime rib of beef, filet mignon and veal piccata.

The hotel entrance is perfectly wheelchair accessible and so is the entire restaurant, located right by the front desk. This is a pretty venue, featuring booths and tables, and popular with tourists and locales.

After dinner I took the opportunity to explore the property. One section of rooms are located in an area that was once outdoors and makes for a pretty interesting view.

Not only can you log on to the restaurant’s website (http://www.desmondhotelsalbany.com/wine-and-dine/simpsons-restaurant.html) to download the menu, but you can also book your table here, which is very convenient. Simpson’s Grille is open Monday to Fridays from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.to 10 p.m.  On weekends they are open from 6:30 a.m.  straight through 10 p.m.

Take the time to walk around the facility before or after dinner.  It includes 323 guest rooms   and suites, complimentary Wi-Fi internet access, free parking and airport shuttle service, a newly renovated fitness center, indoor pool with Jacuzzi, 24 hour business center and two beautifully landscaped all-season atria. The conference center offers 22 unique meeting spaces and over 24,000-square-feet of flexible function space and an amphitheatre.

The Tavern is cozy, warm, inviting and considered “a place to relax and unwind.” Here folks tend to   sink into one of the leather sofas by the fireplace or root for their favorite team while watching the big screen televisions.  Cocktails, cordials and an endless line of beer taps accompany a lite fare menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and burgers.

Scrimshaw at The Desmond is the only AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant for three consecutive years in the Capital Region. It recently introduced a newly renovated fine dining room and exquisite new menu. New Chef de Cuisine Stephen Fratianni and Director of Restaurants Frank Rivera have teamed up to combine classic favorites with unique new menu offerings, including market fresh seafood options which change monthly and select table-side preparation to create a truly memorable and one of a kind fine dining experience.

The P.F Chang’s  at Colonie  Center  in Albany is top notch. We strongly recommend it to anyone passing through.

Each dish on the P.F. Chang’s  (www.pfchangs.com) menu is prepared to order using the freshest and highest quality ingredients. The environment at each location combines  influences of Chinese and American cultures. A panoramic, hand-painted mural depicting 12th century China, is visible from the main dining room and commands attention as the restaurant’s centerpiece, while several terra-cotta warriors stand guard. The majestic 11 foot  tall horses grace the entrance to many of the restaurants. This horse symbolizes the original Forbidden City in China, which was built for China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

The Albany location has been  in operation for five years.  This was our second time there and we remembered the excellent and quick service. The menu is tantalizing and features a much appreciated calorie count next to each item. So what can Montrealers look forward to? Well, first of all the prices are very reasonable and it is highly recommended you share a few dishes. On this night my two dinner partners and I started off with some won ton and egg drop soups. The former includes pork wontons, mushrooms, fresh spinach, water chestnuts, chicken and shrimp in a savory chicken broth; the latter is the P.F. Chang’s version of the traditional soup, with egg, julienne carrots and green onion.

You really must start off with the P.F. Chang’s signature chicken lettuce wraps: wok seared minced chicken, mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts served over crispy rice sticks with cool, crisp lettuce cups.

Select your sharing dishes wisely. My recommendation is the Mongolian beef (tender flank steak wok-cooked then quickly tossed with scallions and garlic), crispy honey shrimp (lightly battered and tossed in a sweet and tangy honey sauce with green onions), double pan-fried noodles (crisp egg noodles stir-fried with mushrooms, bok choy, carrots, celery and onions and comes with a choice of beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or vegetable) and a bowl of steamed rice.

You can check the full menu out online, including a full selection of gluten free items, lunch specials and kids choices. There is also a delicious array of signature desserts.

The sidewalk leading to the restaurant, the entrance and the entire restaurant is handicapped accessible.

AT THE MOVIES: The Albany area has some wonderful movie theatre complexes, each operated by the Regal Entertainment Group (www.regmovies.com). We have a particular fondness towards the Regal Colonie Center Stadium 13. This four year old movie complex encompasses around 64,000 square feet, with more than 2,800 seats in a total of 13 auditoriums. It is right next to two of my favorite restaurants, PF Chang`s China Bistro and the Cheesecake Factory and a huge Barnes &  Noble, great to know when you are planning an outing. The seats at this theatre are very comfortable as they swivel. We actually stopped by the evening before our show to pick up tickets in advance. You can also purchase them online at fandango.com.

Once in the theatre we were entertained by a feature called First Look, which included previews of upcoming film and DVD releases and a series of very amusing commercials. You can also log on to www.fandango.com and purchase your tickets online.

Hearing impaired devices are available upon request and the complex is very wheelchair friendly, with elevators at every level, ramps in each theatre and handicapped seating.

New Hampshire: Dover

Well this was a new stop for our family. While we originally looked at staying in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, getting a booking there was no easy task. Most of the rooms were already spoken for by government personnel attached to the Naval Shipyard and these individuals tend to stay there for extended periods of time. Always a fan of the Homewood Suites chain, I found one in the suburb of Dover (www.dovernh.homewoodsuites.com). This is part of the Lafrance Hospitality Group (www.lafrancehospitality.com), which also owns a Comfort Inn and Suites and a Hampton Inn nearby.

Dover is about 15 minutes from Portsmouth and 25 from beautiful Rye Beach. You are also only a 30 minute drive from the Maine beaches.

As Michael Bolduc, head of the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce notes, the city has a well earned reputation for thriving businesses, an expanding arts and cultural scene, a wide selection of dining establishments, a notable history, a strong sense of community and beautiful scenery. The city’s waterfront district is currently undergoing an intense beautification and revitalization effort that will only add to the quality of life. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the city’s parks, trails, and outdoor activities. For example, the self-guided historic walking tours lead to the renowned Woodman Institute Museum and other historically relevant locations that underscore the significance of New Hampshire’s first permanent settlement.

This New Hampshire Main Street community offers exceptional shopping and dining opportunities—and with no sales tax in this state, shopping dollars go so much farther. Dover’s tree-lined downtown is brimming with quaint shops, boutiques, and restaurants of all types. Dover’s cultural scene is strengthened by fine art and craft galleries, arts collective at One Washington Center, a variety of music venues (including the Rotary Arts Pavilion in Henry Law Park) and the Garrison Players theater group. Dover is also home to the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and the Woodman Institute Museum.

The Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce presents a number of community events throughout the year, including the award- winning Cochecho Arts Festival. This free, outdoor, summer-long family concert series features an array of acclaimed entertainers and comprises the Tuesday Liberty Mutual Children’s Series, the Thursday Luncheon Concert Series, and the Friday Evening Concert Series. Apple Harvest Day, held on the first Saturday in October, draws more than 35,000 people to downtown Dover to enjoy more than 120 hand crafters, children’s activities and games, food, and more.
Dover is easily accessible from all directions. Take the I- 95 to Route 16 and use Exits 6 through 9 (8E is recommended for access to downtown). For more information visit www.dovernh.org.

WHERE TO STAY: I have always enjoyed my stays at The Homewood Suites. In Dover this was no different. Located in the heart of the business district, at 21 Members Way, this hotel is just minutes from downtown Dover and many fine restaurants and shops. It is the perfect place for short and extended stay accommodations. We were there for five days and it proved to be a great base for our activities. Their sister properties, the Comfort Inn and Suites and the Hampton Inn, also have solid reputations. General Manager Scott Goldberg has a decade of experience in the industry and he is only 29.

This Homewood Suites Dover only opened in 2008 and still looks spanking new. It offers all of this on a complimentary basis: a daily Suite Star hot breakfast buffet; dinner and beverages Monday through Thursday evenings at a Welcome Home Reception; parking; high-speed internet access; shuttle service providing transportation to the surrounding area, including downtown Portsmouth; a business center, with print, photocopy, and fax capabilities; Neutrogena bath products; a fitness center, indoor heated pool, whirlpool and outdoor patio. There is also a 24-hour Suite Shop convenience store.

With its spacious suites, fully equipped kitchens, and separate living and sleeping areas, this hotel is perfect for families who need some space and naturally a good choice for the corporate field and travellers looking to remain productive while on the road.

We really appreciated the fully equipped kitchen in our one bedroom suite, complete with full-size refrigerator, microwave oven, two-burner stove top, and coffee maker. There were two televisions with a video player, two telephones with data ports, an iron, ironing board and hair dryer. Pets are allowed here (maximum 50 pounds) for a fee of $50 a night. The third floor of the hotel is reserved for this. Just up the street are a number of restaurants, grocery stores, a Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx and more.

WHERE TO DINE: The Orchard Street Chop Shop (www.orchardstreetchopshop.com) gets my vote for the top dining option in Dover. The magnificent dining room is one of the most elegant on the seacoast. It seats 78 people at the main level, 100 upstairs and 32 on the seasonal patio. The restaurant features floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, oversized booths, Brazilian Cherry wood floors, bronze chandeliers, and wines scattered around the open-grill dining room. This room can be separated for private dining rooms or the entire room can be booked for any special occasion.

Open Monday through Saturdays at 5 p.m. for dinner, The Orchard Street Chop Shop is housed in the original Dover Firehouse. Built in 1865 for the horse-drawn fire trucks, it is one of the oldest historic landmarks in the city. It was used as the firehouse up until the 1970’s when it was converted to the Firehouse I restaurant. It has been a dining establishment ever since.

On Easter Sunday 2003, a fire gutted the kitchen and did extensive smoke damage to both the first and second floor. The Firehouse I closed its doors for good. In January 2004, Chris Kozlowski, better known as “Koz” and owner of the famous Crescent City Bistro and Rum Bar, had the opportunity to purchase the building and began rebuilding the interior. After four short months and close to $1 million later, Koz opened up the new Orchard Street Chop Shop, a prime steakhouse. The Chop Shop is touted among the top steakhouses in northern New England, specializing in dry-aged USDA Prime steaks and an extensive all-American wine list with many older vintages.

“We get people from all over New Hampshire, Maine and northern New England,” says Koz. “The furthest reservation we have ever gotten was from Iraq. They were coming back from being stationed there and decided to call for a reservation because she wanted a big steak. That was pretty neat.”

Koz got his start as a prep cook at a small camp in Wolfeboro, NH in 1989. A few years later he then went to work in the kitchen for Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith, NH, a local favorite. Working there for a few summers while attending college, Koz moved up the ranks and became a kitchen supervisor by the early 1990’s. While attending college at Colby-Sawyer College, Koz studied business management with a concentration in hospitality. He soon became class president both his junior and senior years. During the summer of 1994, Koz moved down to St. Croix, U.S.V.I. and completed his internship for the Chart House restaurant corporation as one of the managers there.

During his senior year at college, Koz was accepted at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY where he started in 1996. At the CIA, Koz developed a liking for home brewing and founded the CIA Home brewers Club. Soon after, Koz got heavily involved in extracurricular activities and was elected president of the Ale & Lager Educational Society, one of the most popular clubs at the CIA. Finally, he joined the Student Council during the final year there and was voted President, the most celebrated position a student could have at the school. Koz graduated in early 1998 with the Student Council’s “Distinguished Service” award.

After graduating, Koz was offered a position brewing beer at Federal Jack’s in Kennebunkport, ME, Shipyard Brewing Company’s pilot brewery. After working there for a few months, Koz moved up the ranks and became head brewer before leaving there in the winter of 1998. He then went back to work as sous chef for the William Tell Restaurant in Campton, NH under the highly acclaimed Swiss-chef, Franz Dubach. This is where Koz completed his CIA externship as well. Chef Dubach is one of Koz’s greatest culinary influences to this day.

During the summer of 1999, Koz packed his bags and moved out to Calistoga, CA to learn how to make wine at Vigil Vineyards, a small boutique zinfandel producer in northern Napa Valley. This is where Koz picked up many contacts in the wine world and rounded out his education on the beverage side of the hospitality industry.

In the winter of ’99, Koz moved back to New Hampshire and took over at the helm of the kitchen at the Governor’s Inn in Rochester. He became the youngest executive chef in the State and brought the restaurant up to a four-star establishment. After garnering many accolades at the Inn, it was time for Koz to move on and open up his own place. In September 2001, Crescent City Bistro and Rum Bar opened its doors to a very enthusiastic following. After being open for only nine short months, the restaurant had to expand to more than double its size to accommodate the following he had built.
After a few successful years, the opportunity arose to buy the Firehouse I restaurant in January 2004 after being gutted by a fire the previous year. After a number of months completely refurnishing the inside with a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen, cigar lounge, glassed-in wine room, and two new dining rooms, the Orchard Street Chop Shop opened its doors in April, 2004.
Koz has been credited with starting the new culinary renaissance in Dover and restaurateurs from all over the country are now following in his footsteps.

The Chop Shop Orchard offers the finest selections of meats and seafood, skillfully prepared with a stunning assortment of traditional steakhouse sides and sumptuous desserts – all house made. We started off our dinner with some salads (wild field green and Tuscan caprese). Two members of our party chose the eight ounce petit filet mignon while I opted for the 14 ounce Delmonico steak. Each main item comes with your choice of two sides. The smashed potatoes won us over.

WHAT TO DO: The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (www.childrens-museum.org),The Woodman Institute Museum ( www.woodmaninstitutemuseum.org), the Jenny Thompson Swimming Pool (http://www.ci.dover.nh.us/rec_jtpool.htm) represent popular stops for visitors. There are also walking tours and jaunts on trails and at parks to consider. Check out dovernh.org/things-to-do for more details.

SHOPPING: Fox Run Mall is a one level enclosed regional shopping center located in Newington, 15 minutes from Dover. It is the only regional shopping center within a 40-mile radius and features national tenants including Macys, JC Penny, LOFT, Abercrombie & Fitch, PacSun, Express, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Gap, Men’s Wearhouse, American Eagle Outfitters, Pandora and Hollister Co. New Hampshire does not have a sales tax which draws shoppers from neighboring states of Maine and Massachusetts.