Hockey Night in Brooklyn

HOCKEY NIGHT IN BROOKLYN: I have always wanted to see a professional hockey game in New York City. That recently became a reality when I took the trip from the Algonquin Hotel near Times Square to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the hometown Islanders faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I did so from the press box.

It is less than 30 minutes by subway, taxi or car. The 2015-16 season marked the first in Brooklyn for the Islanders. The team spent its entire 42 history at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, aka Long Island. With the arena outdated and no new facility on the horizon, ownership turned towards the Barclays Centre – home of basketball’s Brooklyn Nets. The announcement of the move was actually made three years ago. They have a lease here now until 2040.
The team still has its practice facility in Long Island. Four Stanley Cup banners are already hanging in the Barclays Center. In addition, banners hang for retired players Billy Smith, Mike Bossy, Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin as well as former coach Al Arbour and former general manager Bill Torrey.

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, at the crossroads of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, Barclays Center boasts one of the most intimate seating configurations ever designed for a modern multi-purpose arena. For hockey the capacity is just over 15,000; 17,732 for basketball and up to 18,000 for musical or other performances. It opened on September 28, 2012 with eight consecutive sold out shows by JAY Z. Since that time it has continued to host the world’s most renowned performers, including Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Andrea Bocelli, Dave Matthews Band, Bruno Mars and Coldplay, all worthy of top billing on the arena oculus.
I enjoyed the experience immensely and strongly recommend it to anyone visiting New York. As Mike Bossy told, this is indeed a work in progress. Most of the team’s loyal fan base is still in Long Island. They either drive in or take the train. I spoke too many of them as I walked through the arena. While some complained about the commute of at least 45 minutes, they pledged to support the team. Communications manager Jesse Eisenberg told me the adjustment is going well and that sponsorship opportunities in Brooklyn far outweigh those in Long Island, where the team still practices. The players are doing their best to make this work as well. After the game I stood outside the Isles’ dressing room as a slew of players came out to take part in promotional meet and greets.
“I am happy with the move,” forward Matt Martin told me. “We will get new fans, but the old ones are still coming as well.”

Before the game I met with Montrealer Marc Champagne, one of the team’s goalie consultants. He spends seven to 15 days a month with the Islanders and has a personal background with number one netminder Jaroslav Halak, whom he coached in junior. Halak was out with a lower body injury on this night. J.F. Berube, a former member of the former Montreal Juniors, has also been with the squad and is injured as well.
There was a great atmosphere in the rink and so many fans wearing Islanders jerseys, most with number 91 Tavares on the back (for captain John Tavares). There are all kinds of neat promotions going on – seeking the loudest fan of the game, the best beard, the best dancer, guess the autograph and seat upgrades. At one point during the game a member of the US Army was introduced to the crowd and got a long standing ovation. The team mascot Sparky actually skates around the ice, something the Habs’ Youppi can’t seem to do.
TRANSPORTATION: Eleven subway lines stop near the arena: 2, 3, 4, and 5, B, D, N, Q, and R to Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center C to Lafayette Avenue G to Fulton Street. Travel Time from Penn (2, 3, C) and Grand Central (4, 5) is 22 minutes.

ACCESSIBILITY: The Access-A-Ride bus stop at Barclays Center is located on Atlantic Avenue, between Ft. Greene Place and 6th Avenue. The stop is situated on the South Side of Atlantic Avenue, adjacent to the arena, and is nearest the Emblem Health Atlantic Avenue Entrance. Barclays Center has been equipped with the most advanced assisted listening devices (ALD). Headsets and receivers are available at no charge at Guest Services. A driver’s license, credit card, or some form of identification will be required as a deposit. Guests who choose to bring their own headset and receiver may access the system on a standard FM broadcast.
Every concession stand and bar is accessible to guests with disabilities. If assistance is required at any of the food service areas, please contact the nearest staff member. Elevators for guests with disabilities are available in the Barclays Center on the Main Concourse, Lower Suite Level, Upper Suite Level and Upper Concourse. Predesigned elevators leading to the Event Level are also available for guests with ADA needs. Guest Services escorts can be provided when guests with disabilities are in need of event level access.
Patrons requiring interpreting services for concerts should contact our Guest Services Department no later than three weeks after concert ticket sales begin. All Barclays Center affiliated lots will have accessible parking spaces available. All public restrooms are accessible to our patrons with disabilities. Animals are not allowed in the Barclays Center, however, an exception is made for patrons with service animals.

Barclays Center provides wheelchair and companion seating with appropriate sight lines on all levels. Be advised that Center personnel reserve the right to take appropriate legal action against individuals who fraudulently


POUGHKEEPSIE: When travelling to New York City, our family always likes to stop over somewhere on the way in order to make the most of our first day in the Big Apple and avoid getting stuck at the border. For our most recent trip we decided to go a little bit further than Saratoga or Albany and targeted the Town of Poughkeepsie (, a mere 90 minutes from New York.

Poughkeepsie, nestled in the majestic Hudson Valley, is home to 45,000 residents. The town is rich with culture and steeped in history and the home of such prestigious institutions as Vassar and Marist Colleges as well as Dutchess Community College. Along with these institutes of higher learning, they also have Locust Grove, the former home of Samuel F.B. Morse (as in the founder of Morse code). The 180-acre estate of Samuel F. B. Morse includes an Italianate villa designed by Alexander Jackson Davis containing extensive collections of American and European decorative and fine arts. Three miles of carriage roads wind through landscaped grounds, romantic gardens and a shady grove.

WHERE TO STAY: For the two trips we made as a family to Cape Cod, we stayed at a Sheraton Four Points managed by the Linchris Hotel Corporation. I was most impressed with the operation. My main contact is Robb Moskowitz, Senior Vice-President of Operations. When we decided to stop over in Poughkeepsie, I remembered that Linchris had a property there so we promptly booked a room at their Holiday Inn Express at 2750 South Road. General Manager Rachel Kuhn and her team are in the midst of a $3 million redecoration plan in 2016. Linchris has owned this hotel since 1995 and likes to promote its ideal location. As Kuhn notes, if take the train you can be at Grand Central Station in New York City in 90 minutes. Kuhn has been with Linchris for 15 years, having previously worked for them in Boston and New Hampshire. She has found a home in Poughkeepsie, which is where she wants to stay.

We stayed in a one bedroom suite, which included a sleeper sofa and a Jacuzzi tub. There was a coffee maker, microwave oven, mini refrigerator, plates/glassware and silverware. I really liked the layout. In the main bedroom there was an extremely comfortable lounge chair. The bathroom was gigantic, with two access doors. This is very convenient for the person on the sleeper sofa, who does not have to worry about waking anyone up.

The hotel has 121 rooms and attracts both leisure and corporate travelers. A free hot buffet breakfast, as well as one of the continental variety, is offered daily. The lobby is very welcoming to someone like me who likes to work on his laptop late into the night and not disturb others in the room. I set up shop at one of the comfortable tables, helped myself to some coffee and a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie from the front desk and got to work. It was a most comfortable work environment.

The 24 hour fitness room features everything you’ll need to stay on track with your routine: a treadmill, lifecycle, stair master, recumbent bicycle, free weights, and a two-stage universal gym. There is also a 24 hour business center and a seasonal outdoor pool.

The hotel provides accessible parking and self-parking, van accessible self-parking., portable tub seats, communication kits with visual alarms and notification devices, TTY for guest use and closed caption televisions.

For more information log on to or call 1 877 660 8550.

WHAT TO DO: The 22 parks in the area offer recreational activities such as hiking and walking trails in Peach Hill Park. Fine dining is abundant, while art exhibits, festivals, fairs and farmer markets are bountiful.
Poughkeepsie is situated in Dutchess County! Covering 800 square miles, there’s an abundance of natural scenic beauty, outdoor recreation, historic landmarks, restaurants, festivals and more. Activities range from strolls across the Walkway over the Hudson, treks through the Appalachian Trail, and sips along the Dutchess Wine Trail. Tours of the FDR National Historic Site, spins on the Dutchess County Fair Ferris Wheel, and tastes of the Culinary Institute of America restaurants are also highly popular as are cruises down the Hudson River, bushels of pick-your-own apples, and contemporary art from modern masters.

Some places you might want to check out include The Bardavon 1869 Opera House (home of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic), The Mid-Hudson Civic Center (the one-time filming location for WWF Championship Wrestling), The Chance (home of live rock concerts), the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, The Barrett Art Center, The Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, The Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center, Bananas Comedy Club and Joseph Bertolozzi’s Bridge Music. In 2011 Empire Cruise Lines began the operation of the first dinner and tour boat to call Poughkeepsie homeport in nearly two generations. The M/V Mystère is a 60-foot (18 m) double-decked tour boat which departs from Waryas Park at 29 North Water Street.

For shopping and movie theater entertainment, the Poughkeepsie Galleria is located in the town of Poughkeepsie. The mall, which opened in 1987, consists of two floors with 250 shops and restaurants to enjoy. The Regal Cinemas theater has 16 screens. Current anchor stores within the mall include Macy’s, J. C. Penney, Target, Best Buy, H&M, and Sears. I was really impressed with this mall. We were thrilled to find one of our favorite restaurants, Ruby Tuesday, home to a great salad bar and a fun menu. It is truly one of the chains I wish we had in Canada (12 other countries do). Services was fantastic. When I ordered something which I envisioned being cooked differently I told the server Daniel. Even though this was my mistake, she took it back and did not even charge me for the item. A classy move.

Myrtle Beach

For many years now my family I have contemplated a summer vacation in Myrtle Beach (, dubbed “the jewel of South Carolina.” In early winter, we had a family meeting and decided that the time had come to finally experience a week in the area popularly known as the Grand Strand. I can now enthusiastically share with readers how extraordinary this place is. In fact, there was nowhere near enough time to see everything on our “to do” list. That means a return trip will be necessary.

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Stretching from Little River to Pawleys Island, and comprising 12 communities along the South Carolina coast, Myrtle Beach is home to world-class golf, 60 miles of sandy beaches, exciting entertainment, family attractions and Southern hospitality. The area welcomes more than 16 million visitors a year.

I must give immediate credit to the Myrtle Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (, which does a fabulous job promoting the area. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram @MyMyrtleBeach and on Facebook at They go the extra mile to attract tourists. My first encounter with them was a few years back when they visited Canada and invited local journalists to come meet with them. Never before have I worked with an outfit like this which was so responsive to my needs and questions. They indeed serve as a model for how all visitors bureaus should operate.

Myrtle Beach has everything you could possibly ask for to have fun year-round, but I must say that sitting by the pool or the ocean on a hot summer day tops my list. There is an endless array of activities to enjoy.

WHERE TO STAY: There are approximately 425 hotels and 98,600 accommodation units in the Myrtle Beach area. From elegant golf and seaside resorts, to rustic cottages, bed and breakfasts and mom-and-pop motels, the area offers accommodations for every taste and appeals to every type of traveler. There are also several campgrounds located between Myrtle Beach and the South Strand, many of which are oceanfront or just steps away from the beach. There are also a number of beach homes and condos available for rent, thereby giving vacationing families a true home away from home.

1 Bedroom - Bedroom Shot

We stayed at the Island Vista (, a resort locally owned by the Chapman family that has been in the Grand Strand area for decades. The hotel originally on the property was called the Sea Island Inn and was torn down in 2004 and rebuilt as a luxury resort two years later with a wonderful fine dining restaurant called The Cypress Room. Many of the waiters who work at the restaurant have been here for decades, dating back to its previous incarnation. The resort, with 149 rooms, is centrally located in Myrtle Beach, but in a quieter section of the strip and is surrounded by residential homes and no other hotel towers. It has a very homey feel to it. I have never met such a polite staff, from the maintenance man to the front desk personnel.

Hotel - Back

All units are ocean front suite/condo style. We reserved a one bedroom suite with two queen beds in the separate bedroom and a nice pull down Murphy bed, as well as a sleeper sofa, in the living room. The unit also has a full kitchen with dishes and silverware, a washer/dryer, a dining room table, three comfortable chairs, two televisions, an in room safe and an oceanfront balcony. Stephen Chapman, his wife Shelley and his sister Julia Singleton manage the property. They gave me a look at some of the larger suites – two, three and four bedrooms- and let me just say I know what is on my “wish” list for a future trip. Suites range in size from 677 to 2,300 square feet and are highlighted by elegant traditional furnishings such as shuttered headboards, rich draperies and bed coverings, tile flooring, granite counter-tops, plush carpet and floor-to-ceiling windows offering amazing ocean views.

Parking is made simple here, with two multi-level lots. We rented a car from Alamo at the airport, which generally has the best deals, and with our GPS and some printed Google map directions we had no trouble finding our way around.

The hotel has a fitness and health centre, wireless internet and indoor and outdoor pools. We absolutely loved the pool setup. I felt like I was on a tropical island as our space was just steps from the beach and looking straight ahead at the gorgeous ocean. It is best to get up a little early to secure some chairs and an umbrella. Towels are provided via a special dispenser which recognizes your room card. You can rent chairs and umbrellas right on the beach from the lifeguards.

Pool Deck 1
The resort’s swimming complex features an indoor and outdoor pool area with a wide range of water amenities. Unlike any other on the Grand Strand, Island Vista’s indoor pool area reflects a serene Romanesque theme accentuated by a cascading waterfall pouring into a 200 foot lazy river. The indoor area also features a large pool, a Jacuzzi and a kids’ pool featuring pop jets and water games. The indoor facility opens to the outdoors during the summer months and is fully enclosed during the winter. Island Vista’s two outdoor pools overlook the Atlantic Ocean and features pop jets, leaping streams of water and a splash pool. I loved being able to connect to the free Wi-Fi from the pool deck all day. It was quite a novelty and saved me a lot of money on cellular data.

“The Island Vista truly embodies low country elegance in a relaxing, family friendly resort atmosphere,” said Chapman. “The Island Vista provides guests with luxurious and spacious suites and pristine ocean views as well as a host of outstanding amenities. Island Vista is one of the finest oceanfront properties on the Grand Strand and the responses from our guests have been overwhelmingly positive.”

Dedicated to preserving the style and grace of the Sea Island Inn, the Island Vista’s elegant design features architecture reminiscent of Howard Mizner and his style crafted in South Florida in the 1930’s. Don’t want to break from your fitness routine while away? The Island Vista has you covered with a nice fitness center which overlooks the indoor heated pool area. It is open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and offers stationary bikes, elliptical machine, treadmills and weight-training equipment. There is an in-house golf director here who is knowledgeable about the many courses to choose from. Special activities for children aged five to 12 take place during Easter Week and from June through August. There are even Kid’s Night Out activities, which provide mom and dad with a break. Each room has a DVD player. When you check-in you are given a card to take out DVDs for free from a special machine in the lobby – yet another plus in terms of customer service.

Island Vista’s gourmet restaurant, The Cypress Room, is located off the hotel’s main lobby and features an array of European-infused low country dining selections including signature dishes such as pan seared pork chops with apple and cornbread stuffing, crispy fried oysters with roasted red pepper tartar sauce, bourbon creamed corn and sweet potato hash, and pecan-crusted trout, with herbed butter noissette served over Basmati rice with wild mushroom ragout. Our group shared a crab and lobster timbale appetizer and sampled the risotto with provencal vegetables, roasted asparagus and red onion marmalade with lobster and the fish special of the day, a perfectly grilled Mahi Mahi. We also ordered room service on a few occasions, which enabled us to enjoy longer days at the pool.

The Cypress Room also serves a great breakfast daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning order of two eggs, potatoes, toast, juice and a warm cup of coffee. There is also a full service bar providing alternate seating, as well as a selective range of the finest wines, liqueurs, domestic and international beers and specialty cocktails.

There is a large Food Lion Grocery Store just a short drive away. We stocked our fridge immediately with bottled waters and other staples.

The hotel has facilities for the disabled and is handicapped accessible. There are ramps at the front and rear entrances and the hotels has purchased its own beach accessible wheelchair. They have a lift to assist the physically handicapped to go in and out of the pool. Some rooms have walk-in showers and benches and chairs to sit on. It is important to share any special requests when making a reservation.

For more information about Island Vista, call 800-548-0767 or visit

DINING OUT: There are approximately 1,700 full-service restaurants in the Myrtle Beach area and it’s no surprise that seafood is one of the primary cuisines. Murrells Inlet is nicknamed“the seafood capital of South Carolina” and Calabash-style restaurants are popular in the Northern Strand, as well as Carolina Coastal Cuisine. Visitors will also find a range of other cuisines to satisfy their appetites, including steak, ribs, barbecue, home-style cooking, international fare and regional specialties.


We liked what we heard about Thoroughbreds Chophouse ( at 9706 N. Kings Hwy, between Magnolia Plaza and The Galleria, in Myrtle Beach’s Restaurant Row and secured a reservation before we left.

Since opening in 1988, Thoroughbreds has become widely known as one of the locals’ favorite fine dining restaurants after being recognized year-after-year in the categories of most romantic and best fine-dining by the locals. General Manager David Amend and his staff pride themselves in serving only the finest beef and ultra-fresh seafood.

The menu’s course options are neatly arranged to fit with the restaurant’s name, beginning with The Starting Gate. It features some salads, escargot, tuna sashimi, shrimp cocktail, colossal crab cake, duck tenderloins, fried calamari, chilled and hot seafood samplers, blackened lollipop lamb chops and sea scallop ramekin (jumbo sea scallops baked with bell peppers and scallions in a crispy golden brown cake). The latter represented the best from of sea scallops I have ever tasted.

Next is the Clubhouse turn, French onion soup or prime rib potato and mushroom soup. The Belmont Steaks –filet mignon, different cuts of steak, prime rib or pork chops – are served with a house salad and your choice of mashed potatoes or vegetable du jour. The Chateaubriand Bouquetiere at $76 per couple appears to be the house favorite. A slow-roasted and specially seasoned beef tenderloin, carved and flamed tableside by your server it is accompanied by creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, house mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus. Our server was Joshua Amend, the brother of David and quite good at what he does.

“Josh represents our style of service, as well as any member on my staff,” said his brother. “He is professional and personable. Every server here has their own personality. We do not try to stifle our servers’ character. I want our customers to have fun, and enjoy that Southern style of professional service. We also want our staff to enjoy the environment that has been created. It is rare to see a server here who does not have a smile on their face. We encourage our staff to interact with their tables. Every customer is different, and our staff is well-versed in situational awareness. At the very least, each customer will be treated with respect and courtesy. At the same time, their every need will be catered to in an unobtrusive manner.”

Caesar salads are prepared tableside by your server and made for two. The full list of sides includes caramelized onions, creamed spinach, burgundy sautéed mushrooms, sautéed asparagus, cold water lobster tail, shrimp scampi, crab cakes or shrimp. Seabiscuit offers the likes of tuna, breaded and baked grouper, salmon provencal, colossal crab cakes and a bouillabaisse (fresh catch, jumbo shrimp, mussels, calamari and crab in a fennel lobster broth). Then there is the Preakness, featuring veal, chicken Dijon, calf’s liver, Cuban congri, Australian rack of lamb, a 12 hour short rib and pan-seared duck breast. I opted for the latter, something not many restaurants offer. It was cooked to perfection and cut like butter.

The Home Stretch offers a terrific dessert selection: the triple crown of chocolate, grand marnier crème brûlée, apple spice cake, the Kentucky Derby pie, New York style cheesecake, key lime pie, flaming bananas foster, a wide selection of martinis and other drinks. We shared the Triple Crown and the key lime pie – both excellent choices. I must say that this was a true dining experience and a place I would strongly recommend.

Chef John Tapper takes his job very seriously and writes a blog (Pearl Onion Culinary Arts Blog) on Facebook. “Chef John is amazing,” says Amend. “His creative genius is evident in the dishes that he creates. He is passionate about his job, and actually enjoys creating new combinations of ingredients. His vibrant attitude is contagious. Our kitchen works as one cohesive unit. He has truly helped keep that flame alive after 27 years of being in business. Our future looks brighter than ever, and much of our current success should be credited to him.”

As for the history of Thoroughbreds, it is really a story about family and tradition. The original owner of this restaurant was a fan of horse racing. He loved how these animals could be powerful, wild, and unpredictable, yet at the same moment, show grace and elegance. He realized that the mass majority of people will never have the chance to experience The Belmont Stakes, or walk the halls of Churchill Downs. His vision was to combine the aesthetic beauty of these prestigious venues with the allure of Southern charm, cuisine, and hospitality.

Adds Amend: “We believe that a restaurant is built upon four vital pillars of success – cultured ambiance, delectable cuisine, professional service, and consistency. Whether it has been 10 days or 10 years between visits, our goal is to deliver a consistently memorable experience each and every time they walk through our doors. We remain, to this day, family owned and operated. Many of our employees have called this place home for over 20 years. We respect our employees and their contributions to our success. In return, we have received loyalty, support, and a staff that ranks second to none along the Grand Strand. I feel blessed to lead this team of professionals on a daily basis. We have become a small family with big dreams. Our sales continue to rise every year, even with the arrival of many corporate chain restaurants dotting the shores of Myrtle Beach. We remain true to our ideals and will continue to build this family of unique professionals.”

For reservations call 843-497-2636

The Aspen Grille (www., located at 5101 North Kings Highway and owned by Chef Curry Martin, is another must stop on the dining circuit. Martin says that when he decided to open his own restaurant he knew he wanted to offer something different from the usual dining experience in Myrtle Beach – something with a sophisticated, yet simple and absolutely fresh menu and a place where people could sit and relax in a warm and comfortable environment and enjoy each other’s company over a nice meal and a glass of wine. This is a place where music and conversation fill the air. Aspen Grille is the perfect place for a quiet night out for two or a lively group event. We enjoyed our dinner experience immensely.

Martin is a 1996 graduate of the Johnson & Wales University Culinary School in Charleston, South Carolina. He began his culinary career at Noble’s Restaurant in North Carolina. There, he strived to uphold Noble’s mantra on absolute freshness, and keeping flavors of foods as natural as possible. In 1997, he moved to California to take a position at Domaine Chandon Winery in Napa Valley. While there, he also worked at Hudson House, the hospitality kitchen at Beringer Winery. “During my year stint in California, I came to appreciate the role of wine with food and the subtle changes we make as chefs that can really affect a wine’s characteristics, ” said Martin, who also travelled to France and began working at Restaurant Pierre Orsi in Lyon and then Restaurant Michel Rostang in Paris. Upon returning to the U.S., he worked at Sonoma Bistro in Charlotte and Prestige Wines. When he finally decided to open a restaurant of his own, Martin was determined to stand out from the typical dining options found in Myrtle Beach by serving dishes driven by freshness and balanced flavors, and by offering diners a sophisticated yet extremely comfortable setting and exceptional service.

AG_Chef Martin_Kitchen

Dishes here are based on traditional Southern cuisine, with Chef Martin’s own personal twist. The menu changes seasonally and offers simple, but flavorful dishes with ingredients sourced from the best local suppliers. You can pair any dish with a wine from a hand-selected list to create an exceptional meal. Appetizer options include escargot, fried North Carolina oysters, local shrimp risotto, sautéed angus beef steak tips, seared yellow fin tuna, warm goat cheese crostinis, fried green tomatoes, cold water oysters or the superb pan seared jumbo lump crab cake, which was on special on the night we were there. You can select from the soup du jour or enjoy French onion and there are a variety of salads to choose from. The chef`s selections include the 10 ounce bone-in duroc pork chop, the Cedar Springs domestic lamb rack, local pan seared flounder and shrimp, market fresh fish, pan roasted Ashley Farms duck breast, pan roasted Springer Mountain Farm`s chicken breast, shrimp and grits, filet mignon, angus beef New York strip and ribeye, seared New Bedford sea scallops and the braised black angus short ribs. The latter three were our choices and they were each spectacular – the short ribs cutting like butter and the steak cooked to perfection.

You can add a lobster tail to your meal or a variety of sides such as Brussel sprouts, rice, creamy cheddar grits, and fresh asparagus, and house cut fries, mushroom risotto, roasted potatoes. sautéed mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, spinach and Yukon mashed potatoes. Desserts include apple crumble, mixed berry bread pudding, chocolate chip brownie sundae, vanilla bean crème brûlée, peach crumble or flourless chocolate cake. We shared the latter two and they were amazing, particularly the former.

“My passion lies in the overall dining experience,” says Chef Martin, who purchased the restaurant with his wife Jennifer in 2009. “We want people to come to Aspen Grille and feel comfortable and relaxed, and know that the next couple of hours are all about them – not necessarily my cooking ego.”

Our server was the very charming Dee Shook. She shared with us the specials, one of which was a pan seared jumbo lump crab cake, and went over the menu selections in great detail.

Call 843-449-9191 for reservations or email

GOLF: The Myrtle Beach area boasts more than 100 championship golf courses and 30 miniature golf courses, making it a premiere destination for golf enthusiasts and aficionados. There are approximately 3.4 million rounds of golf played annually in the Myrtle Beach area.

Check out Hawaiian Rumble, where they host the Masters Tournament of mini golf every October. Yes there is such an event. It is owned by Bob Detwiler, who serves as the president of the Pro Mini Golf Association. They take their mini golf seriously. It is located on Highway 17 and very popular as was illustrated by the lineup when we arrived at 7:30 one evening. We appreciated the Hawaiian theme at each hole and the replica volcano, which erupted with fire every 30 minutes or so. There were quite a few Montrealers on the course that night including a large family from Montreal North right behind us.

A SAFARI EXPERIENCE: As an animal lover, the moment I learned more about T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) I knew that I wanted this once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of our itinerary. We reserved our spots immediately and let me say this was indeed a major highlight from our trip.

Liger, Doc, Kody, and Rajani

The man behind this operation is Doctor Bhagavan Antl, who started out training animals for movies and TV and they wanted a place where many went to essentially retire. They offer a guided safari like experience through a 50 acre preserve where many of the animals crawl right on top of your lap. A percentage of the revenue from the T.I.G.E.R.S. experience goes to the Rare Species Fund, which provides funding for on the ground international conservation programs. Where is this specifically located? I cannot put that information in print. Those who sign up are given a rendez-vous point of where to show up. You will have to experience it to learn more about this part of the journey. In order to maximize the peace for the animals and the privacy for guests, this preserve cannot be found on Google or MapQuest. Any address that you may find for this company is the one to Preservation Station in Barefoot Landing – 15 miles south of the actual location.

Saiuka the Baby Gibbon_1600x1074

The VIP Wild Encounter Tour does not have the capacity to accommodate wheel chairs or walkers. You must be able to walk/stand for 20 minutes and make your way up a flight of approximately 20 steps. Needing assistance of a cane and/or family member would be fine. You must be at the preserve no later than 9 a.m on your chosen day. No late arrivals are accepted, so give yourself plenty of time to get there. Any children (18 or under) on the tour must either be accompanied by a parent or guardian or arrive with a fully completed and signed release. The minimum age is six.


No personal cameras, video cameras, or cell phones are allowed on the tour. Professional photographers shoot studio quality photographs and video. This gives you the opportunity to take home a set of portraits and phenomenal videos that are incomparable to any other photo opportunity. The $200 fee is well worth it. Tours run three to five days a week, from mid-March to early October, and cost about $300 per person.

Close-toed shoes are required. That means no flip-flops or sandals. It is recommend that you do wear pants that come down to your knees. The animals will be crawling across your laps and they do have nails and although trimmed this can still be uncomfortable. No dresses or skirts are allowed on the tours. Avoid anything hanging off of you that an animal could get caught, which means no straps, purses or backpacks.

Any item that may be needed due to a medical condition (i.e. insulin/small prepackaged snack for diabetes, medicine/epi-pen for severe allergies etc.) should be brought in and left behind the desk. White clothing is also frowned upon as it can interfere with flash photography and you will also be outside on the ground with animals.

It is recommended making your reservation at least two weeks in advance. Tours are generally more popular during the summer months and holidays. No matter the size of the tour, it is an intimate experience. They adjust the time you spend with the animals accordingly, so every tour gets the same experience. It also operates rain or shine. A large majority of the tour is covered and they have the capacity to move portions of it inside if needed. They do have complimentary umbrellas available, but recommend that if it is raining that you bring your own rain jacket/poncho and wear clothing you do not mind getting a little damp in.

This is a fully interactive activity. You will get to meet, pet, and hold a large variety of the animals. After filling out the necessary forms and getting a pep talk from long-time animal ambassador Rob Johnson, our group was introduced to a liger- a 900 pound hybrid between a male lion and a female tiger. We first watched it march around through a glass window and then got to look at in the flesh from about 12 feet away before they snapped our photo with the big cat in the background. Our group was then told to sit as tightly as possible on a horseshoe configuration of benches and then put our hands out. Soon after a binturon walked across our laps, allowing everyone to pet her. A binto what, you ask? This is a medium sized carnivore, also known as the Asian bearcat. Their fur is thick, coarse and black in colour and they have a long, bushy tail.

The animals on each tour vary depending upon the day and the time of year, but you will always get to spend time with the tiger babies, hang out with the monkeys or apes and meet exotic animals you’ve probably never even heard of before.

All of the animal actors can be seen up close and uncaged in close personal contact with their trainers. The trusted relationship they have with their handlers can be seen and felt by the audience. This makes them perfect for live shows or personal appearance. Because Dr. Antle and his trainers have hand raised these animals, they are cooperative and safe and that saves valuable production time and money. People often think it is dangerous to get so close to wild animals like these, but the handlers at T.I.G.E.R.S. have been with these animals since they were babies and have developed a special friendship based on love and respect. In fact, Dr. Antle and his partner Kheira have actually delivered many of the cubs in the enclosure with the mothers because of their special relationships. T.I.G.E.R.S. has a proven method of training these animals: Never treat them as pets, lots of tender loving care, and thousands of hours of one-on-one handling. They even live with the animals 24 hours a day. As Rob Johnson told me, many of the staff like him live on the property and are literally married to their job. Antle’s son and daughter grew up here and are part of the team.

The tour itself lasted about three hours. Early on we sat in a covered enclosure and they brought us baby tigers, lions, lynx and wolves to touch and hold. They were all so gentle. During a refreshment break in a tree top location we observed some members of the cat family let loose and running upwards of 45 miles per hour to try and catch a snack on a rope. Rob Johnson introduced us to a very intelligent eagle, which followed all of his commands.

During these one of a kind shows, you see the animals interacting with their handlers who have developed a very special rapport with them. You will not see our animals sleeping or pacing in cages, as you may find in “traditional” zoos. Instead you will have a look at some of the most magnificent creatures on earth up close and uncaged doing all of the natural activities they would normally do in the wild. Why go to such great lengths? Because the team at T.I.G.E.R.S. feel that if people can get an up-close and educational view of these glorious beasts, they will be eager to learn of the plight of endangered species.

During the Myrtle Beach Safari tour guests will have the opportunity to watch the trainers swim with the tigers. This is not something that they can allow the public to do so bathing suits are not required on the tour.

There are some incredible personal/private encounters. A long standing favorite is to swim with Bubbles the elephant in the intra-coastal waterway on the edge of the preserve. You may want to spend more one on one time with the cubs, have an adventure through the forest or paint with the great apes. These encounters start at $5,000. Email for more information on that. We all got to meet, pet and feed the gigantic and gentle Bubbles.

T.I.G.E.R.S. works closely with international wildlife conservation projects in Africa and Thailand. In addition to providing much needed funds for these programs, personnel have been involved in field research as well. Through our appearances on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and NBC’s Tonight Show they have been able to reach hundreds of millions of people with an educational message of the importance of wild animal conservation. The animal actors have appeared in over 500 films, television shows, commercials and advertisements worldwide. You have seen some of these animals in great films such as Ace Ventura, Forrest Gump, Dr. Dolittle, Mighty Joe Young and many others.

For more information, log on to and

T.I.G.E.R.S. works closely with international wildlife conservation projects in Africa and Thailand. In addition to providing much needed funds for these programs, personnel have been involved in field research as well. Through our appearances on the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and NBC’s Tonight Show they have been able to reach hundreds of millions of people with an educational message of the importance of wild animal conservation. The animal actors have appeared in over 500 films, television shows, commercials and advertisements worldwide. You have seen some of these animals in great films such as Ace Ventura, Forrest Gump, Dr. Dolittle, Mighty Joe Young and many others.
Info: Email

HELICOPTER RIDES: There is nothing like a helicopter ride to truly see all of what Myrtle Beach has to offer. Ocean Front Helicopters ( provides some of the best deals and we can personally vouch for an amazing experience. Formerly known as Huffman Helicopters, every one of their tours take you along the coast for gorgeous views of beautiful, sunny beaches. They have over 40 years of experience in the aviation industry, having maintained a perfect safety record from day one. Our pilot Nick told us that on some days they take as many as 400 trips.


There may be other helicopter companies in town, but Oceanfront offers the only $20 flight that will actually take you over the beach! “Why pay twenty bucks to look at the tops of buildings when you could be treating yourself to stunning views of beautiful coastline?” they ask. There are southbound tours that fly over estuaries and marsh land for nature lovers. There’s a tour that flies north for fantastic views of the Skywheel and Boardwalk and there is even one that flies along the “Golden Mile,” a stretch of coastline where million dollar mansions are nestled into the dunes.

Whether you’re just looking to add some variety to your annual family vacation or a first-timer looking for something fun and unique, there’s no better way to make this a memorable vacation than to see the beach from a birds-eye view in any one of our amazing helicopter tours!

Maintenance personnel are factory trained, and the ground crew are handpicked for their skills, professionalism, and personality.

The Inlet Tour is the one we opted for. The views are simply breathtaking, such as low country marshes, untouched sand dunes and a bevy of native wild life. Several bird species, alligators and turtles all call the marshlands home. The length of this tour -15 to 20 minutes- also greatly increases the chance of spotting a pod of dolphins playing in the water or even a lone shark hunting for its next meal!

The untouched sand dunes take you back to the natural beauty of a coastal treasure from yesteryear. This tour is capped off with an awe-inspiring view of the mouth of the inlet. The sheer magnitude of this feature where the ocean meets land can’t truly be appreciated until you see it from a bird’s eye view. The cost is $129 per person.

Bring your camera on this tour and snap some photos that will make all of your family and friends green with envy! Personnel will take a nice shot of your party in front of the helicopter when you land and print four by six for you. The location is right by the airport, with plenty of free parking. This is a well-oiled machine. No reservations are required. Just line up for your tickets and you will be told which line number to queue at. When it is your group’s turn personnel will load you on to the chopper, fasten the seatbelts and hand you headsets so you can communicate with the pilot. We appreciated Nick’s descriptions of what was below. He even recommended specific restaurants. Always tip your pilot as that accounts for an important part of their livelihood.

“Our pilots come from a variety of backgrounds,” says marketing director Tom Printz. “We employ many ex-military pilots, flight instructors and pilots with previous experience flying sight-seeing tours. We take great pride in our perfect safety record and employ only the most qualified candidates.”

The company can accommodate handicapped passengers. Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and any other device that assists with motor functions will be brought right up to the helicopter. The loading staff will place the individual inside of the helicopter and their device will be set off to the side of the landing pad area. Once the flight is over, staff will bring the devices back onto the helipad and assist the individual out of the helicopter. As for the intellectually handicapped, as long as they are able to receive instruction and can follow safety guidelines, they can enjoy the tours as much as anyone else! “We take great pride in making sure special needs individuals are properly taken care of and that they have an amazing time with us!” says Printz.

The $20 tour is considered an “Intro Flight.” It is the least expensive tour offered and is intended for those who may be on the fence about flying. The short ride will get them up in the helicopter and accustomed to what it feels like, but it is also short enough that if they don’t like it they will be back down on the ground quickly. “Soon after we created this tour, many of our customers who can’t afford the longer flights would purchase it just to be able to say they have flown in a helicopter!” said Printz.

They operate seven days a week, 365 days a year. During the non-summer months the company maintains a smaller staff, but as long as weather permits they do fly.

For more information call (843) 946-0022.

ATTRACTIONS: The beach is certainly the Myrtle Beach area’s top attraction, but the fun does not end with surf and sand. The Grand Strand offers a wide range of unique attractions and exciting entertainment options from shopping, dining, water sports and theme parks, to live entertainment theaters, nightclubs and celebrity concerts. The Myrtle Beach area boasts more than eight live theatres with a total of over 11,577 seats.

ALABAMA THEATRE: For my family, no holiday is complete without a live show and that is exactly what we got at the Alabama Theatre ( There is good reason why this is recognized as the number one entertainment venue in the area. Located at 4750 Highway 17 South next to popular Barefoot Landing, the theatre opened in 1993 and got its name directly from the country music super group Alabama whose members decided to build this state-of-the-art facility.


Gaylord Entertainment was eventually brought on board to collaborate in writing, directing and producing a nightly show incorporating many musical genres. Gaylord Entertainment, then owner of the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland USA Theme Park, Opryland Hotels, TNN & CMT, was no stranger to big time show business and brought a talented team from Nashville, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to write, choreograph, costume and produce the first season’s shows called American Pride and Christmas in Dixie.

Turn the page to 2015 and the Alabama Theatre remains at the forefront of entertainment venues on the East Coast with Gaylord Entertainment continuing to produce their signature ONE The Show and the South’s Grandest Christmas Show. The Guest Artist Concert Series also brings in top touring acts once a week like Alabama, Vince Gill, Josh Turner, Engelbert Humperdinck, Temptations & Four Tops, Loretta Lynn and many more.

Planning for each year’s shows begins many months prior to the grand opening before a live audience. Creative direction is set first with the goal of making the new year’s show fresh and exciting for returning patrons by introducing new songs, scenic elements, costumes and performers. Next, writers, choreographers, music directors and technical experts develop the new show and prepare for rehearsals and scenic implementation. Extensive rehearsals follow involving the singers, dancers and band learning the new show under the direction of the production team. Even the technical crew is integral to the rehearsal process since they must perfect the flow of the show backstage. The Alabama Theatre shows remain on the cutting edge of entertainment technology by adding new scenic, video and sound elements to the 2015 shows.

We saw ONE The Show and it was nothing less than spectacular. What a quality evening of entertainment! The presentation from a talented group of singers, dancers and musicians features everything from country, gospel, broadway, pop and rock to plenty of hilarious family comedy. We heard songs from Michael Jackson, Frozen, Mary Poppins, the Rat Pack (Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.), Les Miserables and classics like Putting on the Ritz and Amazing Grace.

The talented entertainers, extravagant costumes and extraordinary scenery will make you feel like you are in New York or Las Vegas – at a fraction of the price! Emcee and featured vocalist Greg Rowles is quite personable and changes his suit every five minutes or so. Remember the name Ricky Mokel. This is the alter ego of stand-up comic Grant Turner. He introduces himself to the audience before the actual show begins as a stage hand and reads out a series of instructions. With a thick Southern accent, he has the crowd roaring with laughter in seconds. Throughout the evening he comes back to perform small bits and at intermission and the end of the night signs autographs in the lobby. He does perform solo occasionally. Ventriloquist Todd Oliver and his talking dog Irving, America’s Got Talent semi-finalists, are also part of this year’s lineup.

ONE runs from February through October six nights a week. Kids are admitted free between Memorial Day and Labour Day (two kids aged 16 and under per paid adult). A special Christmas show runs in November and December. One day each week the theatre generally presents a guest artist.

If you want an evening filled with song, dance and laughter, the Alabama Theatre is the place you want to visit while on vacation with your family and friends! The memory will last a lifetime. Purchase your tickets today by calling 1-800-342-2262 or online.

Handicapped parking space in their large lot are available for vehicles bearing handicapped parking stickers or license plates. These spaces are located on the south side of the theatre. Wheelchairs may be reserved in advance to assist in transporting guests from their vehicle to their seats. Parking lot assistance may also be arranged for people with disabilities. Just let reservations know when ordering your seats. Accessible restrooms are available in the main lobby. An amplified hearing device and wheelchair and sight-impaired seating are available. Sign language-interpreted performances may be arranged for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

SKYWHEEL: Check out the SkyWheel for what promises to be a very enjoyable eight to 10 minute flight. The recurrent hours of operation are Sunday to Saturday from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., barring of course inclement weather or lightning. Email for more information. Anywhere from two to six people can fly at one time. For the VIP flight, up to four can fly. And don’t worry – if there are just a few of you, no strangers will be put in with you. Each flight is your own private experience!

skywheel top

If you’d like the easiest access to the SkyWheel, there is a paid parking lot right next door. For a quick visit, have a handful of change and use some metered spots all along Ocean Boulevard.
Situated as a centerpiece of the 1.2 mile-long Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, the SkyWheel is surrounded by some tasty eats, great shopping and the pristine sands of the Atlantic. When you’re done having your breath taken away by the view from your flight, browse the LandShark SurfShack and then do some browsing at all of the shops.

RETAIL: The Grand Strand shopping complexes are destinations within themselves, including more than 300 outlet stores. Visitors can stroll along boardwalk promenades on warm
evenings, venture in and out of hundreds of unique specialty stores, and dine in exceptional restaurants along the way. We checked out the Tanger Outlets and were impressed with the deals available at the major brand name stops. Ditto for Broadway at the Beach, a gigantic and fun complex of food and fun.

FAMILY REUNIONS: The Myrtle Beach area is an ideal location for multi-generational travel or family reunions. For visitors both tall and small, the Grand Strand offers attractions certain to please every age group. Beachfront hotels, timeshares and cottages offer spacious options that will accommodate families of all sizes.

ROMANCE: With dazzling sunsets painting the horizon, and palmetto trees swaying in the gentle breezes, the Myrtle Beach area offers a picturesque location for a romantic getaway or
beach wedding. The picturesque beach setting also makes the Grand Strand an ideal spot for newlyweds to spend a romantic and fun honeymoon.

AMUSEMENT PARK: Located at 300 Ocean Boulevard in the heart of Myrtle Beach, Family Kingdom ( has been a tradition here for locals and visitors for more than 40 years. Opened originally as Grand Strand Amusement Park in 1966, it was rechristened “Family Kingdom Amusement Park” after being purchased in 1992 by the Ammons family, owners of the landmark Sea Mist Oceanfront Resort. It has 39 rides. Family Kingdom is the home of the legendary Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster, the Giant Wheel, and over 37 other great rides and attractions for all ages. Here you get the full amusement park experience with midway games, family entertainment and traditional park temptations such as funnel cakes, cotton candy and corn dogs. Family Kingdom is also home to “Splashes,” a beachfront water park located across Ocean Boulevard from the amusement park. Splashes features exhilarating water slides with breathtaking drops of as much as 100 feet; open and enclosed wet and wild flume rides; and a spacious 425’ long lazy river with waterfalls. There are also splash pools, eight kiddie slides and two rain trees. This is another place we did not have time to visit. More information about Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Splashes is available at

In 2013 the park added four exciting new rides including the Twist ‘n Shout steel roller coaster. And in 2014, they introduced the interactive bouncing on the Jump Around Dune Buggies, and the Magic Bikes. Longstanding favorites include the Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster, the Log Flume, bumper cars and go-karts. The Picnic Pavilion is a covered dining area that can accommodate up to 100 guests for birthday parties, family reunions or any group outing.

SHAWN’S BACKWATER TOUR: When in Myrtle Beach we strongly recommend you experience some jet skiing, more specifically via Shawn’s Backwater Adventure ( and This was on our original itinerary, but had to be scratched due to some scheduling conflicts. I did a lot of research before choosing this company and wanted to give them some well-deserved exposure,

Shawn Zimmerman and Steve Wiegel are the men in charge here and they know what they are doing. Their company, Myrtle Beach Water Sports, opened its first location in 1996 with three jet skis. Today they have over 50 jet skis, 10 pontoon boats, two 75 foot dolphin cruise boats, a pirate cruise boat and more. “We are proud to say that we offer a little something for everyone with locations and activities from one end of the Grand Strand to the other,” says Shawn. He and Steve are always on hand to greet their returning guests that come year after year. Their parents and kids are active in the day to day operations of the business as well.

“Myrtle Beach Water Sports is committed to complete customer satisfaction,” says Shawn. “We provide the newest and best equipment available to serve you with safety being our number one concern.”

The waters of South Carolina have been Shawn’s playground for the past 16 years. He has explored and rode South and North Carolina’s backwaters since he moved to Myrtle Beach in 1995. At Shawn’s Backwater Adventure, you’re not just renting a jet ski, you are taking a tour of the Waccamaw River’s beautiful winding trails!

Shawn and Steve are originally from Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. Shawn moved to Myrtle Beach in 1995. Growing up, he worked as a bartender at night and a Jet Ski rental guide during the day. This is where he found his love for the water and the thrills a jet ski can bring. After working for a rental company for the summer, the duo I turned their passions into a reality by purchasing four rental skis and officially opening Myrtle Beach Watersports in 1997. They have been showing locals and tourists alike a great time on the open water, now I’m taking it to the back country where you can ride on glassy smooth water through the moss covered oaks. It’s a beautiful sight that you’ll have to see to believe!

We were told that the one hour intra-coastal tour is a thrilling ride down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway to the scenic backwaters of the historic Waccamaw River. These beautiful waters are lined with oak trees draped with Spanish moss. Experienced guides lead you on an extraordinary ride, twisting and turning through narrow fingers that branch off the waterway and river you will get to see giant Osprey and their nests, turtles and even hear lions roar as you pass by the zoo.

Rider safety is of utmost importance for any level, but they put a little extra emphasis on this when it comes to their entry level series to ensure the safety of you and your family. Best of all, the central location makes this very day trip friendly. The cost for one hour is $89 and $99 to double up. You must be 16 years of age or older to operate a personal watercraft and18 years of age to operate with a passenger. Children passengers ages five to 12 ride free. Nobody under five is allowed.

Guests must arrive 30 minutes prior to departure time. All members of the party will need to bring a valid form of ID. A credit card is required to hold the reservation along with a 50 percent deposit. There is a 48 hour cancellation policy and any cancellations within that time, or arriving late for check-in will result in a charge for the full amount of your reservation total. In case of bad weather and your stay is over, refunds or rescheduling will be made. . For reservations call 843-685-1006.

NEXT TIME AROUND: So what have I placed on my list for “next time?” Shopping at the Market Common and Coastal Mall. Evenings of entertainment at the Caroline Opry, Legends in Concert, the Palace Theatre, Medieval Times Dinner Theatre and the House of Blues. Stops at Brookgreen Gardens, Ripley’s Aquarium, Hollywood Wax Museum, Wonder Works Indoor Amusement Park, MB Zipline Adventures, Waves water park and perhaps even some minor league professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs affiliate the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Check all of these places out on the web.

GETTING HERE: Located just one mile inland from the Atlantic Ocean, the Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) provides easy, non-stop and connecting flights to more than 350 destinations worldwide. Rather than take the 16 hour drive from Montreal, we decided to take a direct flight from Plattsburgh International Airport via Spirit Airlines ( There are flights directly from Toronto too, but the Plattsburgh route is indeed a fabulous incentive for Montrealers to make this trip. The Plattsburgh International Airport (, dubbed Montreal’s US airport, is in the midst of some expansion. Spirit Airlines is the ultra-low cost airline of the Americas and home of the Bare Fare and the chief reason why we went to Myrtle Beach because of its direct flights. Given the traditional backups at customs, I would strongly recommend you head to Plattsburgh the day before your flight. We did just that, staying at the Comfort Inn and Suites ( at 411 Route 3 in a one bedroom suite. It worked out exceptionally well. There was no need to wake up especially early. Waiting for us was a generous hot and cold breakfast absolutely free. If you sleep in, a new Perkin’s Restaurant is attached and it serves breakfast 24 hours a day.

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 ( 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 (, spent a few hours at the Champlain Mall and enjoyed a nice dinner at the Butcher Block Restaurant ( 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.


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.”


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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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.


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.


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, e-mail or call (518) 562-2730.

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

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 ( 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 ( 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.


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.


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.


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 ( 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.

FortesBistro warm

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 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 ( 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.


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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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


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

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 ( 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

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.

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 ( 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 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 ( 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


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 (, 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 ( 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.

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 ( Now we can add the closest Dave & Busters and Cheesecake Factory locations to our home to the list.

Dave & Buster’s ( 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.


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.”


The Cheesecake Factory ( 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 (, 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 (, 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 You can also register online.

AT THE MOVIES: The Albany area has some wonderful movie theatre complexes, each operated by the Regal Entertainment Group ( 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

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 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.

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

THE TUBE OYSTER PASS: Visitor Oyster cards ( 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.

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 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.

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 ( 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.


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.

Immediately following the Changing of the Guard we proceeded to Buckingham Palace and the Royal Day Out tour ( 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.

(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 ( 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.

With over 80 stops, three main sightseeing routes and countless photo opportunities, The Original Tour ( 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 (
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.


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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.


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 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.

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 (, 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 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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 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! ( 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 (, 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.


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.


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.

: We spent considerable time researching where to stay and the Radisson Blu ( 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.

terrasse radissom1 new

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.

Radisson Nice jPlage (hi-def)

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 ( 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.

grand balcon

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 ( 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

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 ( 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.

We sought out and found a place to stay right on site. The Granville Island Hotel ( 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.


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 (, 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


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 (, 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 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, or by calling Telecharge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For information on group sales, contact Group Sales Box Office/ at 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.


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 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.

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 (, 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.

HUBER Restaurant copy

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 (, 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 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.


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 or log on to

Buffalo, New York

My family and I recently spent some time in Buffalo, New York to visit friends. Buffalo ( 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 ( 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 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 They range from luxury boutique to other extended stay locales. You can call 1 877 660 8550 for reservations or do so online at

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 (, 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 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

Toronto Downtown

There is no question about it. Toronto (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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 (, 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.

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. 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

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

MUSICALS: Thanks to the presence of Mirvish Entertainment (, 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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.

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 ( 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 or routes, the prices were always much too high. Then I came across Lo-Cost Rental Car (, 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.


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 ( 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 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 for complete details about this great city.

Whistler, BC

My family and I recently made our first visit to Whistler, BC (, 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.

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( , which does indeed define mountain luxury.


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 ( 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.


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 For reservations, please call 305-918-6777 or 888-804-4338.

IL MULINO: Il Mulino New York ( 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 ( Marty Yoskowitz has been in business here for 37 years and by far offers the best deals.  You can email him at

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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 (, 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 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.

sandbox world albany

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 ( 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 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  ( 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 ( 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

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 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.