Mike Cohen travels to Cape Cod: Chatham

In the affluent Cape Cod town of Chatham, visitors are drawn to the expansive and magnificent beaches, the lighthouse, wildlife, nature trails, bike path, and stunning views of the ocean. Chatham (www.chathaminfo.com) has a special blend of the past and present with quaint streets lined with historic sea captains’ homes, a fine selection of historic museums, and a walking downtown area with unique shops, galleries, and restaurants.

Lodging options range from a spectacular oceanfront resort like the Chatham Bars Inn, to lovely bed and breakfast inns tucked in throughout this picturesque seaside village.

Chatham is located on the elbow of Cape Cod surrounded on three sides by water. Located halfway between Falmouth and Provincetown, it extends out to sea as the most easterly point in Massachusetts. Once a quiet farming and fishing community, Chatham has become a vibrant tourist destination. Rich in its maritime heritage, as well as a spirited New England town with a variety of small businesses, Chatham is a special place for year-round residents and visitors alike.

Chatham Bars Inn (www.chathambarsinn.com) is a gorgeous property catering to a very affluent clientele. I had the opportunity to tour the facility and then spend the day at their private beach and enjoy lunch at their Beach House Grill.

The Chatham Bars Inn has been an idyllic Cape Cod family vacation retreat noted for its excellent service, fine cuisine and beautiful surroundings since 1914. The Inn is nestled near the heart of Chatham on 25 beautifully landscaped acres overlooking Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

This world-famous turn-of-the-century landmark has a remarkable ambiance. The expansive lounge, front veranda and main dining room have been returned to their original grandeur, affording panoramic ocean views and gentle sea breezes. If you’re looking for boat charters on Cape Cod, you’ll love the top-notch fleet operated by Chatham Bars Inn. A variety of luxury boats offer unforgettable Cape Cod experiences. Memorable and unique boating excursions offered by Chatham Bars Inn include Cape Cod sunset cruises on Pleasant Bay, big game sport fishing, sailing tours, family activities, and private charters to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. You’ll also love their Cape Cod sailing packages, including the popular Cape Cod Sunset Cruises Package.

In addition to popular Cape activities such as golf, tennis, fishing, water sports, and bird watching, guests also enjoy summer beachfront theme dinners, spa treatments, and an array of children’s programs and family activities: everything you need for a summer vacation in Cape Cod. Most important, the grand tradition of relaxing in casual, unhurried comfort continues year-round at this historic Cape Cod vacation resort.

In 2007, Chatham Bars Inn completed a $14 million upgrade to the resort, including guestrooms, landscaping, dining and public facilities. They also added the Japanese gardens and a year-round relaxation pool at The Spa at Chatham Bars Inn.

In 2006 Capital Properties, the New York-based residential and commercial real estate development and management firm purchased the property for $166 million. The transaction marked the first venture into hospitality real estate for Capital Properties. “This year-round landmark resort holds a lot of personal significance for me,” said Richard Cohen, founder and president of Capital Properties. “I grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts and continue to maintain offices in Boston, so my ties to the East Coast remain strong, as does my commitment to maintaining the charm and integrity of this historic gem.”

A noted Historic Hotel of America and a member property of Leading Hotels of the World, Chatham Bars Inn is New England’s celebrated oceanfront resort and a classic Cape Cod landmark. Consistently maintained and updated since its initial construction in 1914, the historic Main Inn sits gracefully atop a seaside bluff, offering spectacular views of Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic. Two hundred and seventeen distinctively appointed guestrooms occupy this main building, including 68 sumptuous suites, each designed to preserve an elegant turn-of-the-century ambiance. There are 34 quaint Cape-style cottages offering guests an exceptional level of privacy and housing luxurious guestrooms and master suites.

Renowned as an ultimate, year-round getaway, the Inn offers a variety of meeting and banquet facilities ideal for lavish destination weddings or other special events, as well as extensive conference space equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual technology. Celebrated local caterers and professional event planners wrap up every necessary detail.


A Visitor Information Center is located in the town-owned David T. Bassett House, 2377 Main Street, at the intersection of Routes 28 and 137 in South Chatham. The Information Booth is located at 533 Main Street, next to Town Hall. It is under the supervision of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce and maintained by the Town of Chatham.

The sport of kings is the sport for everyone. For the boys and girls, there are flounder, and the experts match their skill against the striped bass, bluefish, and tuna. The waters of Cape Cod off Chatham offer some of the best-striped bass fishing in the world. No permit is required for saltwater fishing. There is excellent fishing in many of the freshwater ponds near Chatham. You may purchase a freshwater fishing license from the Goose Hummock Shop in Orleans at 508-255-0455. Non-resident shell fishing may be done in any area that is not marked “Closed to Shell Fishing,” but only by special fee permit available from the Permit Department on George Ryder Road. Harbor and gray seals are the most common species in Chatham, and can often be seen resting or hauled out on rock piles, ledges, sand bars, and jetties exposed during low tide around the Chatham shoals from the North Beach break-through to South Beach and Monomoy. They’re also found resting on isolated beaches, in marshes, and on floating docks at all tide stages.

The best time to see seals is within two hours of low tide on a sunny midday afternoon. Because seals cannot move well on land, during high tide they position themselves over submerged jetties. When the tide goes out they are left exposed, sitting on the jetty basking in the sun. If left undisturbed, they will stay on the rocks until the tide comes in again. If conditions are right, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 seals can be seen in the afternoons at Monomoy Island. There are several local companies offering exciting seal tours along the beautiful Chatham Harbor waterways between North Beach, Chatham Light, and the Break

Every Friday evening at 8pm from July 2 to September 3 all roads on the Cape lead to the band concert at Whit Tileston Band Stand—Kate Gould Park on Main Street in Chatham. As many as six thousand people attend these concerts, and it will be one of the highlights of your Chatham summer. There will be dance numbers for grownups, folk dances for the children, and community singing for everyone. Members of the colourfully uniformed 40-piece band live in Chatham and the surrounding towns. Each Monday evening during the winter the band meets for rehearsal. Funds for the maintenance of the band are voted on at town meetings. The band members are not paid and the concerts are their contribution to the summer life of Chatham. Don’t miss these concerts. They’re great fun!

Mike Cohen travels to Cape Cod: Eastham

With miles of sandy coastline, the Cape Cod towns of Eastham, Orleans and Wellfleet represent a haven for beachcombers and pail-toting youngsters. Only 25 miles up Route 6 from the bustle of shopping in Hyannis, this Gateway to the National Seashore is often referred to as the Cape’s little secret. If you are planning a holiday here, consider this area for your base.

The western border of Eastham is lined with six miles of beautiful beaches overlooking Cape Cod Bay. Just as magical as the National Seashore, Cape Cod Bay offers calmer and warmer waters, amazing flats at low tide and breathtaking sunsets. We enjoyed Coast Guard Beach, only a few blocks from our hotel. It is $15 to park your car and take a shuttle. Limited handicapped parking is available directly on the beach, where they also have beach wheelchairs. There is a free beach pass for those who are permanently disabled or legally blind.

The most notable and largest Eastham bay beach is First Encounter, the location where the native Indians first encountered the pilgrims in 1620. It’s great for kids, with its extraordinarily low tides. Buy them a net and watch as they scoop up crabs of all shapes and sizes in water up to your ankles.

Eastham

Where to Stay: When we last visited this area six years ago we discovered the Four Points by Sheraton Eastham Cape Cod (http://www.starwoodhotels.com/fourpoints/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=786), a modern full-service hotel which just kind of appears before your very eyes as you travel on busy Route 6, which consists mainly of small motels. For summer trips, an early winter booking is highly recommended. Hyannis is only 45 minutes away. The hotel has beautiful indoor and outdoor swimming pools and is close to the beaches. Some rooms have balconies overlooking the indoor pool, which is beautifully heated and a fabulous place to go after returning from the beach. There is also a jacuzzi. This hotel has one of the most magnificent suites I have seen in a long time. The Nauset Suite has two separate bedrooms – one with a king bed and another with two twins. There is ample cupboard space. Each has a flat-screen television The very large living room also has a flat-screen, a couch, four comfortable cheers, two end tables, a large working desk, a dining room table for four, another clothing closet and a small kitchen with full-sized fridge, a microwave, dishes and silverware. In the bathroom, you will find a large shower with glass doors. Oh yes, let me tell you about the balcony. It is gigantic, with two lounge chairs, two picnic tables and 10 plastic chairs – ideal for entertaining friends or family. This is traditionally used for businessmen, as the hotel hosts a lot of conferences. But for a family seeking good space for everyone, this is a luxury.

The free wireless high-speed internet is indeed “high speed” and faster than what most other hotels offer.

There is also great service from the front desk, starting with the printout of descriptions and directions to the local beaches.

This hotel also has a fitness facility, a game room, refrigerators and coffee makers in each standard room, an on-site restaurant (Bellamy’s) and five meeting rooms in case you want to hold a company conference here. The front desk will get you anything you need, be it a dining reservation, tickets to a show, or a car rental. Check out the Cape Cod Rail Trail Bicycle Trail, only 100 feet away.

The hotel has two rooms with a roll-in shower and five handicapped-accessible rooms in all, located on the first floor. They have wider doorways, raised commodes, hearing-impaired smoke detectors and lowered thermostats, etc. The hotel also has TTY equipment and closed captions on all televisions. General Manager Jacqui Frost says all staff is required to watch a video on disabilities to have a better understanding of guests with disabilities and how best to accommodate them.

Mike Cohen travels to Cape Cod: Hyannis

Hyannis is a town made famous by the Kennedy family. The Kennedy Compound can be seen from afar and is always under tight security.

There are 100 miles of splendid public beaches in Barnstable County. On the quiet north side is Sandy Neck, an eight-mile-long barrier beach with dunes, beach grasses and marshlands alongside Cape Cod Bay; to the south are the warm waters of Nantucket Sound and popular Craigville Beach; Kalmus Beach, where windsurfing is available; Orrin Keyes or Sea Street Beach and sheltered Veterans Beach, which I personally would not recommend. A major summer highlight is the Barnstable County Fair (wwwbarnstablecountyfair.org), which takes place annually at the end of July. This is an extraordinary experience, featuring a variety of shows, exhibits, concerts, food, animals and carnival rides. The petting zoo and livestock displays are an experience, especially for the younger ones. They’ll also enjoy the 40-minute circus show. The large fairgrounds where this event takes place are in East Falmouth, a mere 11 miles from Hyannis. However, given the fact you must take one-lane Routes 28 and 151 to get there, the drive there will be very long unless you depart early.

Cape Cod (www.capecodchamber.org) is located in the midst of a major migration pattern for saltwater fish, which provides for a plenitude of fishing from early spring until late fall. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce really does a marvelous job promoting this area. Get a copy of their official guide before you start planning your trip. They also produce an excellent restaurant book (www.capecoddiningguide.com) and offer gift certificates for travel, dining and shopping.

In addition to the beaches, fishing, golf and kite flying, the Hyannis area has playgrounds, miniature golf courses, bike paths, tennis and racquetball clubs, windsurfing beaches and a bowling facility. There are amusement centers located on Main Street and Route 132. Be sure to allow some time to sample some of the area’s fine retail shops and art galleries and the very large Cape Cod Mall. In addition to the historic Hyannis Main Street Waterfront District, investigate the 100-plus stores in the climate-controlled Cape Cod Mall on Route 132. There is also Cape Town Plaza, Southwind Plaza, and Festival at Hyannis along the same route as well as the wonderfully imaginative Christmas Tree Promenade. The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum is a multimedia exhibit designed to open a window into the days JFK spent on Cape Cod. The exhibit features over 80 photographs spanning the years 1934 to 1963 and is arranged in thematic groupings to reflect John F. Kennedy, his family, his friends and the Cape Cod he so dearly loved. In addition to photography, a video narrated by Walter Cronkite depicts the president’s experiences on the Cape. Several themed areas include charged oral histories of JFK’s friends.

Before you go, log on to www.kidsonthecape.com and check out the best guide for parents and grandparents available in the region. You can order a hard copy by mail, which I strongly recommend, allowing you to plan your trip accordingly. Copies are free once you arrive. Inside you will find a wide array of activities and attractions, such as the Cape Cod Children’s Museum (www.capecodchildrensmuseum.pair.org).
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Mike Cohen travels to Cape Cod: Orleans

Nestled between spectacular Nauset Beach on the Atlantic and tranquil Skaket Beach on Cape Cod Bay, Orleans offers something for everyone. One of the primes draws in Orleans is its Academy of Performing Arts (www.apacape.org), Cape Cod’s finest quality theatre and studio. Located at 120 Main Street in what was once Orleans Town Hall, the Academy Playhouse delivers the best drama, musicals, comedies and original works you can find on the Cape. It is a year-round source of great entertainment for all ages. Established in 1975, this non-profit organization is dedicated to producing high-quality performances and nurturing the artistic development of our community. Last summer my family and I attended a performance of Rent. I must tell you that I am still humming the songs to this day. This is not an easy show to put together, with 36 songs in all, but the young cast pulled it off beautifully.

The cozy 162-seat theatre, which captures the essence of the live theatrical experience, hosted an enthusiastic crowd the evening my family was in attendance. The cast is all volunteers, hoping for future stage careers. Take Nic Chad for instance. The 19-year-old was the “Season’s of Love: soloist. At my hotel, the Four Points Sheraton in Eastham, there was Nic working behind the front desk. He spoke about what a thrill it is to be part of this theatre group. “We rehearsed for two months straight and we the show six days a week,” he said. “It is a great experience. We all want careers in this business. I will be pursuing mine by going to school in Los Angeles.”

I would strongly recommend you make a visit to the Playhouse part of your itinerary. It is fully air-conditioned, something which was not the case six years ago when I last visited.

The Playhouse is not presently wheelchair accessible. You need to climb stairs to get to your seats. Plans are now in place to mount a rigorous capital campaign to restore the front of the theatre, as well as to provide ADA-compliant handicap accessibility by installing an elevator

Dining Out: The top restaurant on our list from the last trip was the Orleans Waterfront Inn (www.orleansinn.com). Right on Route 6A, in a beautiful setting overlooking the water and next to Windmill Park. Just like last time we made this our dinner prior to going to the theatre. Our waitress Kara, an aspiring performer herself, was wonderful in getting us our dinner in enough time for us to get to the show on time.

This is a family-owned establishment. Ed Maas, his wife Laurie and their eight children have all played a role in making this historic property a must-stop since purchasing it 14 years ago. The restaurant offers the finest menus, from a varied selection of fresh local seafood, produce and grill specialties. There is a kid’s menu, offering everything from chicken fingers and burgers to pasta and pizza. Homemade desserts, specifically the chocolate layer cake, are to die for. If you order lobster, this place will crack it up for you. Also, try the clam chowder.

Ed’s two twin daughters and his eldest son now manage the restaurant. Three of his children were adopted and each of them has special needs. Two work at the restaurant, which is fully wheelchair accessible with a ramp at the front.

The Inn itself was built in 1875 and eventually served as a boarding house, a summer vacation hotel and a restaurant. While it presently boasts 11 beautiful guest rooms, the place is mainly used for weddings and corporate functions in the elegant downstairs Cove Room. It leads to the waterfront deck and has a seating capacity of 150. Ed Maas told me that there have been many Jewish Simchas held at the Inn. Ed’s brother Fred is the chief of police in Sunny Isles, Florida, the home of a large Jewish community.

Dinner on the evening we went was delicious: clam chowder, an appetizer of seafood cakes, a 12-ounce teriyaki ginger-crusted sirloin steak, lobster and scallops. The triple-layer chocolate cake was perfect to share for three. Ed was busy attending to two of his grandchildren. He has four in all and a fifth on the way.

There are no kosher restaurants in Orleans, but the Inn offers a number of salads and items such as grilled Atlantic salmon, fish and chips and pasta.

Also worth checking out is Hearth and Kettle, a small Cape Cod chain of restaurants that serves breakfast items from morning until close. They have an extensive menu with other options as well. We ate at the Orleans location on West Road, located in a large strip mall with Shaw’s grocery store.

A huge Stop & Shop grocery store is across the street from the Orleans Inn. It is conveniently opened till midnight and has everything and more you wish to stock your fridge with. A CVS Pharmacy is just a few more blocks up the road.

Michael McCarty

Mini-Golf: The Lower Cape’s largest and best 18-hole mini-golf course is located right at the Orleans Rotary (next to Wendy’s). Cape Escape Adventure Golf (www.capeescapeadventures.com) is operated by the McCarty family and has the backdrop of a beautiful nautical setting, featuring waterfalls, fishing vessels and live koi fish you are encouraged to feed. Michael McCarty has been working at the course for 19 years since he was 12. It is open from April until October ( 9 a.m. until the last group enters the course at 10:30 p.m.). We really enjoyed the ambiance. The course itself was fun. Good music played in the background and everyone was friendly. Each hole is named after a different town in Cape Cod, with Plymouth, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket added in for good measure.
While individuals in wheelchairs cannot navigate this course, McCarty says clients with crutches have managed to complete the course. There have also been many visually impaired individuals as customers.

The McCarty clan actually operates this entire block. Across the street are Mike’s Bike Rental, Mandy’s Cape Creamery and the Cape Tradewinds gift and beach shop. Make sure to give this spot a visit the next time you are in this part of the Cape.

Cape Cod: Provincetown

A trip to Cape Cod is not complete without exploring Provincetown (www.provincetowntourismoffice.org)—literally the last town on the Cape until you run out of land.

Located 120 miles from Boston along the National Seashore on the outermost tip of Cape Cod and surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay, Provincetown is a year-round destination with a fascinating history and extraordinary qualities. From incredible beaches and boundless natural beauty to an eclectic arts and culture scene and world-class dining and shopping, Provincetown offers something for each of the diverse visitors it hosts throughout the year.

The entire Atlantic Ocean coastline of Cape Cod was preserved as the Cape Cod National Seashore Park (CCNSP) by then President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Provincetown – better known as Ptown – is bounded by the sea on three sides at the tip of Cape Cod and two thirds of the town’s natural resources are managed by the CCNS. From Long Point to the town line, the Cape Cod National Seashore provides miles of federally protected and preserved seashore, ponds, and woods. The CCNS is run by the National Park Service with the dual goal of protecting precious, ecologically fragile land, while allowing the public to enjoy incredible resources. Opportunities abound for swimming, picnicking, beach walking, dune hiking, biking, bird watching and viewing Ptown’s famous sunsets – one of the few places on the East Coast where it’s possible to see the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. Dune tours of the National Seashore are offered by Art’s Dune Tours and are a fantastic way to experience the dune landscape. A tour highlight is viewing the legendary dune shacks that were widely used by playwright Eugene O’Neil and poet Harry Kemp. For the hardy and adventuresome, hiking the dunes on foot is possible by entering at the Snail Road entrance. (www.nps.gov/caco/index.htm)

CCNSP is also home to the Old Harbor Life Saving Station, one of three of the original 13 life saving stations on Cape Cod. These oceanfront buildings were equipped to launch a rescue into the surf to pull survivors from sailing ships that had landed on the sand bars 1,000 feet off shore. It is open to visitors and is the only Life Saving Station where life saving history is preserved. A ‘breeches buoy’ rescue is re-enacted by Park Rangers every Thursday evening at 6 p.m. during the summer season. (www.nps.gov/maritime/park/oldhbrls.htm)

During the 19th century the only human dwellers in the Provincetown Dunes were transient campers from Provincetown who fished and hunted there seasonally, the lighthouse keepers and their families, and the hardy men who manned the Life Saving Stations and patrolled the beaches for shipwrecked sailors. The Life Saving service eventually evolved into the Coast Guard, but the CCNSP has moved an authentic 19th century Life Saving Station from Chatham to Race Point Beach to provide a permanent exhibit of the seminal government service which has saved many thousands of lives.

Besides these mariners, there were artists, writers, and playwrights who found creative space in dune shacks in the early 20th century and lived, mostly in isolation from each other, during the warmer months. Today a local non-profit, Peaked Hill Trust, manages the shacks for CCNSP and offers week-long stays at affordable rates in a lottery system.

Art’s Dune Tours (www.artsdunetours.com/index.html) is the only tour company offering four wheel drive access to the dunes. Art Costa began giving “dune buggy” tours in 1946. Today, the tours are given using modern SUVs and arrangements can be made for lobster bakes, and sunset and champagne tours. Tours depart daily from the center of town. For the hardy and adventuresome, hiking the dunes on foot is possible by entering at the Snail Road entrance. The hike in takes approximately 40 minutes, but is rewarded with incredible vistas and the quiet of the giant dunes.

Provincetown is surrounded on three sides by water and is home to some of the best beaches in the country, most of which are accessible by bike trails. At Herring Cove Beach, which is one mile from town, there is beautiful sand, gentle surf for swimming, opportunities for spotting whales in the distance, ample facilities, and great sunsets. Bonfires are allowed with a permit. Race Point Beach, which is two miles from town, is great for families for its Atlantic Ocean surf, facilities, and lifeguard station. Long Point is a local beach favorite. It’s literally at the end of Cape Cod, has a lighthouse, and offers splendid beaches for sunning, swimming, and picnicking. It can be accessed by walking across the West End Breakwater near the Provincetown Inn or by a shuttle boat that runs regularly during the season both from MacMillian Pier and Flyer’s Boatyard in the West End.

The recently renovated National Seashore Bike Trails, particularly the Province Lands Trail, provide unparalleled biking adventures – the bonus is the spectacular views of dunes, forest, ponds and the ocean along the way. Bike trails lead to Herring Cove and Race Point Beaches for swimming and sunning. Biking in and around town is free and easy. Commercial Street, Ptown’s main street, is “one way” for cars, but “two way” for bikes. Rentals shops are located on Commercial Street.

Provincetown is the closest port to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS), a federally protected marine habitat that is home to an amazing variety of marine life, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, deep sea fish, and sea birds. Its proximity to SBNMS makes Provincetown one the best places in the world to whale watch. Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, a family run whale watch company since 1975, worked with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS), an internationally-known marine organization, to develop incredible science-based excursions to SBNMS. Today Dolphin Fleet has its own public education and research program run by Dr. Carole Carlson, a leader in the large marine mammal conservation internationally. Trips are appropriate and enjoyable for people of all ages. (www.whalewatch.com)

Shiver your timbers with the jewels and treasures recovered by world-renowned explorer Barry Clifford. Clifford discovered the pirate ship, the Whydah, which sunk off the coast of Provincetown in 1717. The Whydah is the only verified pirate shipwreck ever discovered. Recommended for “ages 6-98” visitors will learn how the discovery took place, how artifacts were rescued off the ocean floor, and how pirates lived and died. All of the excitement unfolds at the end of Macmillan Pier in the Expedition Whydah Sea Lab and Learning Center. (www.whydah.com)

The Pilgrim Monument, which commemorates the Pilgrim’s First Landing in the New World, is the largest granite structure in the United States, and the adjacent museum houses a collection of Provincetown art, artifacts, history, and culture. After a history lesson on Provincetown, climb to the top of the granite structure for beautiful views of Provincetown and beyond. The monument opens for special, free events during the off-season: Lightings before Thanksgiving (always the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) and during President’s Day/Valentine’s Day weekend, and on April 1st, April Fools Day and PMPM’s Opening Day. (www.pilgrim-monument.org)

No visit to Provincetown is complete without seeing the town’s historic and beautiful library. A replica of the famous schooner, The Rose Dorothea, is exhibited in the library, which offers gorgeous views of the harbor. It also contains a great children’s section, is open on Sundays, and offers free internet access. (www.ptownlib.com)

Dining Out: Bubala’s By The Bay (www.bubalas.com),at 183 Commercial Street, not only has a delightful menu for all three meals of the day. It also offers free parking, a true luxury on what is the best place for people watching in town. Before or after dining, take a walk and check out all of the interesting shops. You can also log on to (www.provincetownpocketbook.com) and order this neat little publication.

Bubala’s began in 1993 upstairs at the Cafe Edwige. Noreen Bahring ran the floor and Rose Kennedy was the executive chef. Bubala’s moved to its current location at the beginning of the West End of Provincetown in 1994. John Yingling is the owner, Liz Roberts runs the bar and floor, Tom Conklin is the general manager, and Gui Yingling is the kitchen manager. They even have a chef named Mike Cohen, who I was unsuccessful in meeting the night we went.

The clam chowder is outstanding. I would also recommend the Cajun calamari as an appetizer while the grilled lamb rack cuts like butter and is very tasty. The pan seared scallops and cod in parchment are also worth considering. A children’s menu for those 12 and under includes penne pasta, pasta alfredo, pasta with tomato sauce and chicken fingers.

There is a nice selection of homemade desserts to choose from, notably the chocolate truffle torte.

Cape Cod: Wellfleet

Wellfleet on Cape Cod offers something for everyone. Located some 30 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, Wellfleet has an abundance of quaint seaside character and charm. Bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and the west by Cape Cod Bay, 61 percent of the land area of Wellfleet is in the Cape Cod National Seashore Park. Wellfleet has a total upland area of approximately 13,100 acres (20.47 square miles). Of this total, about 8,000 acres (12.5 square miles) are within the Seashore boundaries, leaving 5,100 acres (8 square miles) outside.


The miles of beautiful sandy beaches are perfect for swimming, surfing, flying a kite or just relaxing. If you’re willing to walk a short distance, you can enjoy complete solitude on your own private beach.

The calmer waters of Cape Cod Bay and their harbor are a haven for boating, windsurfing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. Don’t miss taking a refreshing dip in one of the many cool, clear, fresh water kettle ponds! If biking or hiking is what you’re looking for, there are many miles of trails both in the National Seashore and at the 1000 acre Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. So you’d rather go shopping? The quaint Central Village area offers a wide array of fine art galleries, and shops all within a short walk.

This unique town offers a variety of lodging choices including motels, bed and breakfasts, cottages and houses to rent and country inns. The comfort of Wellfleet motel and lodge accommodations will make your beach vacation complete. Dining can be anything from fried clams on the beach to white tablecloth restaurants. After dinner you can catch a movie, a theatre performance or live music ranging from classical to rock, or you can head down to the harbor for one of Wellfleet’s spectacular sunsets.

Do you prefer to travel in the quieter months? Wellfleet is usually blessed with great weather through October; most businesses are still open, crowds have dissipated, the beaches are nearly deserted. We celebrate the end of each season with a send up of our world famous shellfish at the Wellfleet Oyster Festival on the weekend following Columbus Day. Come join the fun!

The Wellfleet Drive-in, Mini-Golf, Flea Market and Cinemas (www.wellfleetcinemas.com) , located right on Route 6, are a popular spot. You can call 508-349-7176 for more details. There is also the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) , Julie Harris Stage & WHAT For Kids (www.what.org) at 2357 Route 6 & 1 which we did not have a chance to experience this trip in.

Dining Out: We did venture to Wellfleet for dinner. Van Rensselaer’s (www.vanrensselaers.com) has been family owned and operated for over 35 years. In 1968, Howard and Anne Hall opened Southfleet Restaurant , serving a variety of Cape Cod fare. Many a customer today recalls those summer nights when a Wellfleet entertainer by the name of Arnie would fill the place with song. But 1980 marked the beginning of Van Rensselaer’s, a name chosen from Peter Hall’s Dutch ancestry. A trace of the family line leads to Steven Van Rensselaer, a name highly associated with New York’s Rensselaer County and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Today, Peter and Diane Hall proudly continue to serve the freshest locally caught seafood and superbly prepared meats. As Peter told me, his wife was originally a dental hygienist before they were married and assumed running the restaurant from April until October. It is fully wheelchair accessible, with an accessible washroom as well.

Van Rensselaer’s hosts two to three special wine dinners each year – generally, one in the spring and two in the fall. These five-course dinners are a wonderful opportunity to try some innovative, new wines paired with some delicious and creative courses from their chef and kitchen staff.

Located on State Highway 6 in South Wellfleet, opposite the entrance road to the Marconi area of the Cape Cod National Seashore, the restaurant actually draws diners from as far away as New Hampshire who drive in for the evening. My family enjoyed a wonderful dinner. The virgin pina colada was a quenching beginning while the salad bar and homemade New England clam chowder were excellent. We were urged to try the house speciality appetizer, lobster cakes, a creation of Peter’s brother-in-law. They were spectacular. For the main course I would recommend the barbeque beef short ribs, braised in red wine, green and wax bean sauté, corn bread and zesty barbeque sauce or the one and one quarter outer cape roasted lobster.

There are no kosher restaurants in Wellfleet, but Van Rensselaer’s has some excellent fish choices: the baked chatham scrod, with lightly seasoned crumbsm, fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes is light. Ditto for the sword fish, salmon and the tuna. For the kids there is a cute and low priced menu offering grilled cheese, hot dogs, mozzarella sticks, fried chicken tenders or penne pasta with marinara sauce.

If you are looking for a casual meal with plenty of choices, check out PJ’s. It is also on Route 6. Here you line up at the counter, select a meal and wait for your number to be called.

Miami: Greater Fort Lauderdale

A destination once famous – or infamous – as the top U.S. Spring Break haven, Greater Fort Lauderdale today stands as South Florida’s transformation story and one of the most revitalized destinations in the country. During its peak in the mid-1980s, Spring Break in Greater Fort Lauderdale attracted some 400,000 college students over a six-week period, a non-stop party where motel railings were used as pool diving boards and the area’s beautiful golden sand beaches were left littered with beer cans and cigarette butts.


It took a dedicated effort to bid Spring Break adieu. Despite concerns from local businesses that thrived on the annual phenomena, a public and private sector initiative was created to rid the destination of Spring Break for good. The hospitality industry expanded, modernized and improved. Millions were spent on new hotel developments and upgrades. New facilities such as the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the 600,000-square-foot Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center were built. Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport – which now stands as the fastest growing large airport in the U.S. over the past decade – was greatly expanded and Port Everglades emerged as the country’s top luxury cruise port.

Today, Spring Break has been transformed into beach chic. Greater Fort Lauderdale’s Blue Wave beaches – so certified for their outstanding beauty and cleanliness – have been complemented by upscale hotels and a wide variety of top attractions and activities. Casual, yet sophisticated, Greater Fort Lauderdale is South Florida’s renaissance story. Trendy boutiques and luxury retailers line Las Olas Boulevard, Greater Fort Lauderdale’s unofficial “Main Street,” and the upscale Galleria mall is the result of a recent $100 million renovation. More than 60 golf courses make the destination a golfer’s paradise. Attractions such as Butterfly World – the largest butterfly aviary in North America – and the natural wonder of the Everglades bring visitors in touch with nature and native culture. A three-tiered coral reef system and more than 75 wreck sites draw novice and expert scuba divers, while kayaking, parasailing, kiteboarding and snorkeling entertain those looking to stay above water.

Need proof of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s transformation? Just head to the Intracoastal Waterway, where some 42,000 registered yachts make Greater Fort Lauderdale the yachting capital of the world. Or see an acclaimed exhibit at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale. Or dine at one of the destination’s trendy nightspots or chic restaurants.

Two of my favorite Greater Fort Lauderdale destinations relate to shopping. Sawgrass Mills at 12801 W. Sunrise Blvd. is simply Florida’s largest retail and entertainment center , featuring 350 name-brand stores, outlets, restaurants cinemas and entertainment venues and home to Wannado City, America’s first indoor role-playing theme park for kids!

The Swap Shop , at 3291 W. Sunrise Bvd is the largest indoor-outdoor flea market in South Florida, featuring an air-conditioned entertainment and food court area and a 14 screen drive-in theatre.

The new Greater Fort Lauderdale is a vibrant, year-round destination offering more than 33,000 hotel rooms at a variety of hotels, resorts, and Superior Small Lodgings, plus several new upscale resorts opening soon. More than ten million annual visitors enjoy Greater Fort Lauderdale’s 23 miles of Blue Wave Beaches, 300+ miles of inland waterways that run from the Intracoastal to the Everglades, 4,000 restaurants, top shopping, and a thriving arts and culture scene. For more information, contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or visit ( www.sunny.org ).

DINING OUT: I must admit that a particular fish restaurant proved to me the real draw. Many people I know had been raving about the 15th Street Fisheries ( www.15streetfisheries.com ) , a Fort Lauderdale legacy since 1979. It is located at Lauderdale Marina (1900 SE 15th Street), providing a spectacular view of the Intracoastal Waterway. In addition to their world-famous award-winning cuisine, the location is by far one of the best in South Florida. You just can’t get closer to the water or to the nautical history of the area. Dine here above the docks where a daily parade of boats keeps the vistas fresh. We sat in a room called “The Porch.” Manager Guillermo Puthon, who just a few years ago worked on the cruiselines, pointed to some large fish swimming below. The large tarpons are fed by customers throughout each day. This is quite a sight, especially at night. Lights have conveniently been installed at the bottom of the water. There are some other pretty fish to view upon your entry. And just in case you wondered, there is no fishing permitted here.

Against miles of open water and sky, the nautical show unfolds. Gulls tip their wings to yachts sailing the calm waters of the Intracoastal. Giant silver tarpon leap along the dock. Boaters in the know tie up at the pier, a favorite table in sight. Winter, spring, summer and fall, the 15th Street Fisheries – just a water taxi ride away -always feels like home.

Emphasizing seafood, the restaurant offers a casual dining environment on the lower floor, featuring sandwiches, oysters and peal and eat shrimp. Upstairs dining is more formal, with an abundance of seafood appetizers and entrees, along with steaks, ribs, prime rib, and chicken as well as exotic foods from around the world and local specialties.

Homemade breads, a specialty, come with a cheese-and-chive spread and they are served by a “bread girl.” Grilled mahimahi and alligator are among the more than 50 entrées. Our servers Rich and Veronica were superb, welcoming us with a unique menu displayed on a large billboard. Rich provided detailed explanations of each dish. We began with salads and some clam chowder and then decided to share an order of stone crabs as an appetizer. For the main course, three of us split a pair of two pound Maine lobsters which were beautifully pre-cut making then dining experience that much easier. The key lime pie for dessert was outstanding.

The 15th Street Fisheries is located on SE 15th Street (of course) in the heart of Fort Lauderdale. From I-95, take I-595 east to US-1 (Federal Highway). Travel north on US-1 for 1.5 miles to SE 15th Street. Turn right and go all the way to the end of the street. You’ll find us inside Lauderdale Marina Reservations are required for dining upstairs. Call 954-763-2777 Valet parking costs $2 at dinner, but it’s free at lunch.

For more information on Greater Fort Lauderdale go to ( http://www.sunny.org )

Miami: Sunny Isles Trump International

What is there not to like about Sunny Isles Beach, the city of Sun and Sea 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. Situated 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. Residents and visitors can fly into either Miami International or Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International airports, or cruise into the Port of Miami or Port Everglades and be in Sunny Isles Beach within 20 to 30 minutes.

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. Sunny Isles Beach has a significant Jewish population and enjoys close ties with its Israeli sister city of Netanya. Mayor Norman Edelcup and a number of town commissioners are Jewish. There are no shortage of synagogues in the area. The Young Israel of Sunny Isles is located at 17395 N Bay Rd while the Temple Bnai Zion is at 200 178th St. The Chabad Lubavitch of Sunny Isles Beach (www.chabadsib.org) is at 17555 Atlantic Blvd. Jewish Snowbirds also line the many condos which line Collins Avenue.

THE TRUMP: My family and I recently returned to the spectacular Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

The Trump International Beach Resort is a lavish oceanfront oasis, complete with its own private and pristine beach and delightful grotto-style pool complex. This facility offers 390 over-sized guest rooms and suites, each with a private balcony and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean or Intracoastal Waterway. Luxurious amenities at Trump International include a full-service spa and fitness center, two restaurants, three lounges, tennis, a business centre and 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting and banquet. The property opened in 2003 and has been consistently hailed as one of the best Miami Luxury hotels. It is managed by the newly-formed International Resorts Management Group.

This masterpiece was created by Donald Trump and Dezer Properties, and rises as a striking landmark to luxury amidst the white sands of South Florida. You can shop on site and at nearby boutiques that rival those of the world’s fashion centers or spend a relaxing day at the spa. There is no shortage of indulgences here.

FOR KIDS: When it comes to vacationing, kids are seeking to have the most fun. An interactive adventure designed just for the little one ages 5 to 12, “Planet Kids” is a high-energy program tailored to provide children with the opportunity to experience the many cultural and educational environments South Florida has to offer. Children are sure to enjoy the many activities that include off-property excursions, beach and pool games and arts and crafts projects. Recreation Director Tom Card and his staff play a very active role poolside. One of the highlights of each day is when Card tosses in a giant ball that the kids try to toss about.

While the kids are busy on their adventures, parents can indulge themselves and slip into a sultry oasis amidst the resort’s private stretch of pristine beachfront and its magnificent grotto-style oceanfront pool complex. Adults are invited to enjoy a taste of the tropics at Gili’s Pool Bar featuring a sensational Piña Colada menu promoting an extensive list of twelve one-of-a-kind Piña Colada concoctions or check out the trendy Lime Lounge featuring nightly entertainment and a selection of tapas and specialty cocktails.

Guests can also unwind at the resort’s cutting-edge full-service spa, Aquanox. The spa’s extensive menu includes an array of the following treatments: customized spa packages, massages, facials, body treatments, enhancements and waxing. Accommodating the most discriminating palates, especially those little picky eaters, the Trump International Beach Resort offers a variety of dining options where the whole family can spend time together over delicious cuisine. The resort offers Neomi’s Grill, a Mobil Award-winning restaurant featuring American and tropical-inspired fare in an elegant yet casual oceanfront setting and the Lime Lounge, serving a light, casual lunch and appetizers. While soaking up the sun, families can enjoy a poolside meal at Gili’s Pool Bar featuring a delightful menu of lighter fare with the added luxury of spectacular ocean views.

THE CABANA EXPERIENCE: For the true experience of luxury, try to reserve the new pool and beach cabana food and beverage experience. I cannot understate how strongly I recommend it. We have been fortunate to experience this on more than one occasion.

The over-sized air conditioned cabanas redefine the hotel experience and include a refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and water, a television, wet bar area and microwave, a table and chairs, couch and chaise lounges. Beach cabanas are equipped with private bathrooms and showers. Overlooking either the pool or beach, your cabana attendant will serve you three separate culinary offerings throughout the day, based on two adults. Additional items may be ordered and charged to the guest room directly. Start off with the Rise & Shine experience at 10 a.m. with some smoothies, fresh fruit and berry blend accented with Brazilian acai berry, French press coffee, citrus scented tea scones with agave honey, Vermont butter and sour cream pound cake with yogurt topping. The Siesta at 2 p.m. features a choice of fresh muddled Mexican margaritas or Miami mojitos, beef empanadas, cilantro chili salsa and mini Cuban sandwiches. In between , if you have room in the tummy, you can sample some dessert. The club sandwiches are extraordinary. At 4 p.m., our server stopped by the cabana with the Sunset snack: Floridian mango champagne cocktail, bittersweet chocolate dipped fruits and champagne biscuits. All cabanas can be rented on a daily or half day basis – they are simply the ideal place to conduct business, plan a family outing or simply unwind. Prices range from $200 for a half day to $325 for a full day.

For more information on Sunny Isles Trump International go to www.trumpmiami.com or call 305-692-5600.


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Miami: The South Beach China Grill Experience

South Beach is the section of Miami Beach, Florida that encompasses the southernmost 23 blocks of an island separating the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. This area was the first section of Miami Beach to be developed, starting in the 1910s, thanks to the development efforts of Carl G. Fisher, the Lummus Brothers, John S. Collins, and others. The area has gone through numerous man-made and natural changes over the years, including a booming regional economy, increased tourism, and the 1926 hurricane, which destroyed much of the area.


In both daytime and at nightfall, the South Beach section of Miami Beach is a major entertainment destination with hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels. The area is popular with both American and international tourists (mainly from Europe, Latin America, Canada, Israel, the Caribbean and within the United States), with some having permanent or second homes. The large number of European and Brazilian tourists also explains their influence on South Beach’s lax and overall tolerance of topless sunbathing, despite it being a public beach.

The reflection of South Beach’s residents is evident in the various European languages, as well as Semitic languages and many other languages spoken. As of 2000, all of Miami Beach residents, including those of South Beach, spoke Spanish as a first language, which accounted for 54.89 percent of residents, while English made was spoken by 32.75 percent of the population. Reflecting the European and Brazilian community, Portuguese (mainly Brazilian Portuguese) was spoken by 3.38 percent of residents, while French (including Canadian French) was at 1.66 percent German at 1.1 percent Italian 0.99 percent and Russian was 0.85 percent of the population. Due to the large Jewish and Israeli community, Yiddish made up 0.81 percent of speakers, and Hebrew was the mother tongue of 0.74 percent of the population.[5]

Another unique aesthetic attribute of South Beach is the several colourful and unique lifeguard stands, still used today by South Beach’s lifeguards. After Hurricane Andrew, Architect William Lane donated his design services to the city and added new stops on design tours in the form of lifeguard towers. His towers instantly became symbols of the revived City of Miami Beach.

On a nice night, there is nothing better to do than find a good parking lot and spend some time walking the streets of South Beach.

Lincoln Road is an open-air pedestrian mall, considered South Beach’s premiere shopping area. It is home to many restaurants and several night clubs, such as Score and Funktion, as well as many retail outlets. While Lincoln Road was one time rather downtrodden, with its unique boutique shops and restaurants, since the 1960s it has had “an esoteric chic that maintains its trendy appeal.” It is located in between 16th Street and 17th Street and spans the beach in an east-west direction.

Ocean Drive is the easternmost street in South Beach, and stems from south of First to 15th Street, running in a north-south direction. Ocean Drive is responsible for the South Beach aesthetic that most out-of-town visitors expect. It is a popular Spring Break and tourist area, including the famous, yet predominantly local, Pearl and Nikki Beach night spots.

Washington Avenue is one of the best-known streets in South Beach. Running parallel with Ocean and Collins. Washington is notorious for having some of the world’s largest and most popular nightclubs, such as Crobar and Mansion. During “season” (October 15 to May 15) the street is jammed with traffic until early in the morning (as late as 6 am) every night of the week. In the 1990s explosion of South Beach as a nightclub venue, its nightclub moguls included Ingrid Casares, whose investors included the singer Madonna Ciccone.

JEWISH MUSEUM OF FLORIDA: If you’re vacationing in South Florida anytime soon and it begins to rain, here is a great indoor activity. The Jewish Museum of Florida chronicles the little-known nearly 250-year history of Jewish life in Florida as an example of the immigrant acculturation process of all people in Florida – and in America.

The Jewish Museum of Florida opened in April 1995 when a group of visionary Floridians rescued an abandoned art deco historic synagogue on Miami’sSouth Beach from demolition. They restored and transformed the building as a place to house the growing collections and as a bright and sunny showcase for an award-winning historical exhibit, MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida. This core exhibit project was begun in the mid-1980s in a statewide grassroots effort to collect and preserve photos, artifacts, documents and oral histories of thousands of Jewish families throughout the state of Florida. The Museum received accreditation in 2002 by the American Association of Museums, an honor granted to only 3% of the nation’s museums.

Florida hosts the nation’s third largest Jewish community – 850,000 people, but is perceived to have a “new” Florida Jewish history starting after World War II. In reality, Jews have been allowed to live in the state only since 1763 when Florida was taken from the Spanish, who permitted only Catholics, and turned over to the British in the Treaty of Paris following the French and Indian War. The first Jews settled in Pensacola that year. The man who brought Florida into statehood and served as its first U.S. senator (and the first Jew to serve in the U.S. Congress) was a Jew, David Levy Yulee.

The Jewish Museum of Florida has been heralded as a cultural jewel of Miami Beach and in 1980 earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The building, with a unique copper dome, was completed in 1936. It was designed by noted Art Deco architect Henry Hohauser as an Orthodox synagogue for Miami Beach’s first Jewish congregation. Rabbi Moses Mescheloff, who served the congregation from 1937 to 1955, designed the marble Torah-reading bimah and 80 colorful stained glass windows, which are still intact. The Museum is located at 301 Washington Avenue. For more information call 305-672-5044 or log on to www.jewishmuseum.com. It is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Mondays and civil and Jewish holidays .

CHINA GRILL: Prominent American restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow’s commitment to the idea that serious food and dazzling spectacle are not mutually exclusive has led him produce some of the most original, critically acclaimed and wildly popular dining hotspots across the globe. Today, Chodorow’s China Grill Management and its affiliates operate 26 restaurants in the US, UK and Mexico. His global restaurant group consists of an impressive array of first-class dining spots. CGM and its affiliates own, operate, create concepts, and /or consult in creating some of the most acclaimed and innovative restaurants in Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Chicago and Mexico City. His organization’s phenomenal reputation is a result of his culinary ingenuity and unyielding commitment to excellence. It is this combination of uncompromising vision and gourmet expertise that has enabled China Grill Management and its affiliates to provide the public with restaurants of the highest quality. CGM’s flagship restaurant, Manhattan’s venerable China Grill, opened in 1987. Without sacrificing China Grill New York’s distinctive atmosphere or the quality of its cuisine, a sister property in Miami was opened to rave reviews in 1995.

Instantly anointed the place to “see and be seen,” China Grill has become celebrity central for the international set in South Beach. Oprah Winfrey is crazy about the low fat cuisine and dines there whenever she’s staying at her Fisher Island home. Madonna, a really big fan, got a thrill dining there the same night as Miami Heat coach Pat Riley. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett enjoyed a honeymoon dinner following their New Year’s nuptials. Michael Caine dines there when in town. George Clooney had to be escorted in through the back door due to the many paparazzi trying to get a photo of him. Jack Nicholson likes to enjoy a cigar after a meal befitting a Hollywood legend. Supermodels Cindy Crawford, Nikki Taylor, Naomi Campbell, Daisy Fuentes and Vendela, superstars from Sly to Cher to Prince, Brooke Shields, Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum, Lenny Kravitz, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Anna Kournikova, director Oliver Stone and actor/director Sean Penn, sport ‘s stars Ken Griffey Jr., Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Livan Hernandez, Wayne Gretzky, and Emerson Fittipaldi have all wielded chop sticks here. Senator Bob Kerrey, Magic Johnson, Donald Trump, Placido Domingo and George Stephanopolous fill out the list of the legendary and the distinguished.

My family and I made our first visit to the China Grill South Beach location and I must tell you it was an experience to remember. This was an entire evening out. Our server, Stepha Diamond, has been with the place for three years. She is a walking encyclopedia of the menu. More importantly, she gives excellent suggestions and what to order and share.

Virtually every dish at China Grill is prepared on the grill or in a wok, using sauces strictly for flavor. Portions are generous, and artfully presented on bold, oversized plates, and above all, meant for sharing. We started off with some fabulous crab cake, some salads (crackling calamari and confucius chicken) lamb spareribs and regular calamari) and perhaps the best sushi rolls I have tasted in a long time – the kaleidoscope (salmon, tuna, cream cheese and spicy mango) and crunchy tuna.


Spectacular entrees, large enough for two to three people, include Shanghai lobster with ginger, curry and crispy spinach, Korean kalbi rib eye with truffled artichoke-potato hash, wild mushroom profusion pasta with sake Madeira cream sauce, duck two ways, sweet soy marinated skirt steak, tempura sashimi with hot mustard-champagne sauce, lobster pancakes with wild mushrooms and red chili and coconut milk. A selection of nine popular side dishes include wasabi mashed potatoes, crispy spinach, and five vegetable fried rice among others. Do not worry about over ordering. The staff will package any of the leftovers up so you can continue to enjoy the China Grill experience. Save some room for dessert. We receommend the cheesecake pot stickers (with the five spice chocolate raspberry, mango and ping sauce), the Great Wall (vanilla, chocolate and caramel ice cream, toasted meringue, fresh berry and whipped cream) and the hazel nut chocolate torte (blackberry and orange cream and anglaise sauce).

In an area known already for it’s architecture and design, China Grill stands out. Spectacular from the outside, breathtaking on the inside, the restaurant captures the pulse and energy of Miami. The landmark glass, onyx and limestone building encompasses three separate dining and drinking areas. A 250-seat main dining room pulsates at the center. Interiors designed by noted architect Jeffrey Beers include passages from Marco Polo’s travel diaries emblazoned in marble mosaics that run the length of the restaurant’s imported Egyptian limestone floors. One of the most striking features of the restaurant is Beers’ signature — almost ethereal custom light fixtures that hang from the restaurant’s soaring ceilings like clouds.

One of Florida’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, China Grill has twice received from the Miami Herald their highest rating, EXCEPTIONAL. The restaurant has been featured as one of the region’s “hot new restaurants” in the March 1996 issue of Esquire and hit the cover of New York Magazine’s February 12, 1996 edition, accompanied by a story that tracked the migration of chic from New York to Miami Beach. The April 6, 1997 issue of The New York Times’ travel section, China Grill was praised for its invigorating, light and inventive food. The October 1997 issue of Travel & Leisure deemed the restaurant’s Shanghai lobster a to-die-for dish. Voted one of Miami’s most popular ( top 40s) restaurants by the ZAGAT Survey.


Special Needs: The China Grill offers valet parking. This establishment is handicapped accessible. If any member of your party is in a wheelchair, ask to be seated at the main level. There are special handicapped accessible washrooms for males and females. For those with vision problems keep in mind that the restaurant is very dark, with candles at each table. The servers will be happy to provide you with a small flashlight to help you better navigate the menu.

China Grill is located at 404 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, with easy access directly off the MacArthur Causeway from 1-95. Dinner Sunday through Thursday from 6:00 p.m. – midnight, Friday/Saturday from 6:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. Major credit cards accepted. For reservations, call (305) 534-2211. You can see their entire menu at www.chinagrillmgt.com.


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Maine: Kennebunkport

Kennenbunkport-Inn

I first heard about Kennenbunkport, Maine, like most others I know, as the place where former US President George Bush Sr. had a summer home known as the Bush Compound First built by Bush’s grandfather, George Herbert Walker, it has been a family home ever since, and has been owned by Bush since shortly after he became vice president in the 1980s. During his presidency, Bush often invited world leaders, from Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and Yitzhak Rabin, to Kennebunkport. In 2007, his son George W. Bush invited Russia’s Vladimir Putin and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy to meet there.

This is an astoundingly picturesque town in York County, Maine, with a population of less than 4,000. The town center is located along the Kennebunk River, approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) from the mouth of the river on the ocean. Historically a shipbuilding and fishing village, for well over a century the town has been a popular seaside tourist destination. Kennebunkport has a small district of souvenir shops, art galleries, seafood restaurants, and bed and breakfasts. Its reputation as an upscale community comes from the numerous large seaside estates along Ocean Avenue and other coastal thoroughfares. In the summer months, many wealthy people from across the Northeast vacation in Kennebunkport and nearby Goose Rocks Beach. It is regarded as one of the most expensive vacation areas in the Northeast. During the fall, Kennebunkport is a frequent stop for tour buses showing visitors the famous New England fall colors.

Kennebunkport’s Dock Square is the commercial centre of town and is certainly worth an afternoon shopping adventure. You will find unique boutiques offering one-of-a-kind wares, t-shirt shops and some great places to pick up a gift for family and friends. Be sure to visit the many local galleries as Kennebunkport has long been known as one of the region’s greatest artists’ enclaves.

One-Dock-Square

A night of entertainment is easily found in a number of playhouses, where you can enjoy some of the funniest, dramatic or vocally inspiring shows you can imagine. The Maine coast has been a summer haven for Hollywood actors to come and “hit the boards” since the forties, and they still come today to stretch their acting muscles and enjoy the beauty and relaxation of our coast.

Maine has more than 5,000 miles of coast and some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire state can be found here in the Kennebunks. Whether you’re a family looking to set up for that perfectly relaxing day at the beach or a surfer hoping to catch the ultimate wave, the beaches in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport offer some of the best fun in the sun. You need to buy a parking pass and hope there is actually a spot when you get there. Seek out Mother’s Beach, where we enioyed some wonderful days and park your chairs at the very back of the sand because by mid-afternoon the surf comes up pretty high. The ocean water is cold, but my family and I had no trouble wading in and jumping the waves. It was relaxing and a lot of fun.

One activity we had planned, but not succeed in experiencing due to the weather was a 90 minute trip on Kylie’s Chance. The boat tour gives you a chance to see how Maine Lobsters are caught. You also get a nice view of former President Bush’s estate and seals in their natural habitat on Bumpkin Island. Try to call 207 967 5507 ahead of time.

WHERE TO STAY: For the past few years I have been on the email list of The Kennenbunkport Inn, receiving their always interesting newsletter. So, when I decided to make my very first trip to Maine, naturally I contacted them immediately. This is a charming intimate hotel, with 49 guest rooms in the Victorian Mansion, Riverhouse or Wharfside buildings right in Dock Square, the heart of all of the shopping, dining and attractions. From the elegant style of the Federal and Mansion rooms to the charming ambiance of the Riverhouse to the Maine beach cottage style of the Wharfside, there is a room perfect for every taste and need.

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We had a Wharfside family suite., which is large enough to fit at least six people. I cannot remember when I last felt this comfortable away from home. It features standard rental style furnishings, three bedrooms, a large living room with sleeper sofas, kitchen facilities and a private bath. The Wharfside is a short walk across the street from the main building, which contains the One Dock Restaurant, the piano bar, patio dining, an outdoor pool, spa services and a guest library. There is a delicious complimentary deluxe continental breakfast served each morning and private off-street parking.

Perfectly located in Dock Square, the heart of this seaside resort village, you are steps away from the bustling collection of shops, galleries, historic sites, restaurants and the Port Walk Shops that don the Kennebunk Rivers edge.

The Inn is owned by the husband and wife team of Debbie Lennon and Tom Nill. Debbie’s parents have a home nearby. The couple got married here in 2000 and had their rehearsal dinner at the Inn. They immediately fell in love with the property and a few months later they approached the then owners and began negotiations to purchase. Debbie and Tom are hands on owners who have hired a lovely and caring staff. The Inn itself was originally built as an elegant family home in the late 1890’s by Captain Burleigh S. Thompson, a wealthy tea and coffee merchant. Captain Thompson lived here with his wife and daughter until 1926, when he sold the mansion to Lloyd and Murray Hackenburg. It was in that year that the mansion first became The Kennebunkport Inn.

DINING: As we prepared for our trip, the names of two restaurants in Kennenbunkport kept coming up: Bartley’s Dockside Dining, located right by the bridge at 4 Western Avenue and Mabel’s Lobster Claw at 124 Ocean Road.

For over a quarter century, three generations of the Bartley family has been serving great food. During those years, they’ve made countless friends that have entered through the restaurant doors simply to enjoy the flavors of a good meal and left a devoted fan for life.

There are so many photos of President Bush on the wall you’re sure he’s just around the corner chomping on a lobster roll! There is a new photo, personally autographed to the Bartley family, from Bush of his latest skydiving experience in the area.

Vacationing celebrities enjoy the anonymity of dining in a place they call their own and being called a regular This was the favorite watering hole for the White House Staff and the intimate bar offers full liquor choices. Bartley’s has free parking for their guests while dining in air conditioned comfort. Since we were staying at the Kennenbunkport Inn, we had a barely five minute walk.

Bartley’s air conditioned restaurant, situated on the river that flows through town, boast of having the freshest lobster. Indeed they do! Lobsters swim in a salt water tank located inside the restaurant, making your choice for dinner as fresh as you’ll ever have! Brian Bartley jokes that you’ll need a chain saw to cut into the gigantic size of their lobster, and at 3 1/2 pounds…he’s right! The baked stuffed lobster here is superb. This house specialty involves the chef first splitting and cracking open the lobster. After breading is added to the inside it is cooked for 20 minutes in the oven and served so easy to enjoy. The lazy man’s lobster is another favourite. Here all the work has done before you, with the lobster meat taken out of the shell and served on a casserole dish with butter. It is so beautifully prepared, even the kids will enjoy it.

Other choices include the caramelized salmon, haddock ala Dockside and steaks. Most vegetables are an afterthought , but not at Bartley’s. Gail Bartley hand picks the freshest vegetables form the farmer’s markets daily during the summer and fall seasons. For an appetizer try the fresh native crab-meat cocktail or the fried whole clams with tartar sauce.

If you look up Blueberry Pie in the dictionary, Dorothy Bartley’s smiling face would be right next to it! Mrs. B’s Blueberry Pie was a staple on Air Force One. I would strongly recommend you save room for this specialty.

Mabel’s is legendary in Kennenbunkport. In the summer season, with its terrace, about 70 people can be seated at a time. The place is always packed, so be sure to make reservations (207-967-2562) in advance. Owners Robert and Stephanie Fischer bought the place 12 years ago and take a real hands on approach. Their kids work here as well and they take only one day off a week. The night we were there, we were told President Bush dropped by for ice cream a few days earlier. Then Robert brought over a special guest to the table, award winning Jewish composer Marvin Hamlisch. He had just finished his meal and was quite a gentleman.

The menu here is pretty comprehensive, with everything from lobster and a variety of fish selections to chicken, beef and pasta. There is a special children’s menu of chicken, fish, burgers, spaghetti and even hot dogs. The lazy lobster is a favourite. I sampled the sword fish and it was absolutely out of this world. Their homemade clam chowder is superb as are the fried scallops. For dessert, try one of their pies (made fresh daily) or the chocolate cake topped with hot fudge sauce.


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Maine: Ogunquit, Wells and York

Known to the Abenaki tribe as “beautiful place by the sea,” Ogunquit is a beautiful town of Maine featuring a world-class beach and magnificent coastline that attract visitors from around the globe.

The mouth of the tidal Ogunquit River separates three miles of white sandy beach from the craggy granite ledge which dives into the Atlantic. Millions of visitors have walked the Marginal Way, a scenic cliff-walk that meanders along the ocean for over a mile.

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Ogunquit has everything for every type of traveler. Theatre lovers flock to the many playhouses for the summer stock performances. Shoppers rave about the assortment of galleries, boutiques and gift shops and discriminating diners have an abundant selection of fine restaurants to satisfy nearly every taste – including lobster! Sailing, sea kayaking and whale watching are popular activities as well as hiking nearby Mount Agamenticus or the Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm.

PERFORMING ARTS: Located just South of Ogunquit Village at 42 Main Street, surrounded by pastoral fields and scenic woods, the historic Ogunquit Playhouse (ogunquitplayhouse.org) continues to create some of the most vibrant and exciting summer theatre in the country. One of the few remaining summer stock theatres of the legendary straw hat circuit, the Playhouse continues its 76-year tradition of bringing the biggest and best shows of Broadway to the beach. Each summer the Playhouse produces a five show subscription series along with its unique and growing Children’s Theatre Program.

The 2009 roster featured A Chorus Line, Shout! The Mod Musical, Guys and Dolls, Singin’ in the Rain and the Elvis Presley filled All Shook Up.

We had the good fortune of seeing Guys and Dolls, starring Tony award winner Christian Hoff and Richard Kind of TV’s Spin City fame. It was a fabulous show, with great sets and a real professional look. There is free parking, book your tickets in advance and arrive at least 15 minutes before showtime,

Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays, from Memorial to Columbus Day weekends. Main Stage ticket prices range from $39 to $58 per show. You may purchase tickets on-line or through the box office at 207-646-5511.

The humble beginnings of this theatre go back to July 1, 1933 as a crowd filed into a renovated garage in the town’s square is there for the opening night of a new venue. Few, if any, realized they were also witnessing the birth of a playhouse that would soon earn and later sustain its title as “America’s Foremost Summer Theatre.” Broadway showman Walter Hartwig had a dream: good theatre could thrive outside of New York. With his wife Maude he knew Ogunquit through participation in the Hoyt’s Lane Art Center. The town’s reputation and popularity as a summer resort convinced him to bring his Manhattan Theatre Colony to Ogunquit, and he persuaded such legends as Maude Adams, Ethel Barrymore, and Laurette Taylor to star with a resident company.

The theatre’s enormous success brought the need for larger quarters. Hartwig bought the old Ware Farm on Route 1, just south of town, and built the new Ogunquit Playhouse, unique for its spacious comfort, convenience, superb acoustics, and up-to-date equipment. The playhouse opened on July 17, 1937, and with top stars in the best plays it indeed thrived. After Hartwig’s death in 1941, his widow Maude took up the producing reigns, and was joined in 1950 by John Lane, a young actor and general manager. He acquired the theatre and land from the retiring Maude in 1951. Joined by a new business partner, Henry Weller, they embarked on a long-range plan of modernizing and improving the building and grounds, and, without missing a beat, enhanced the tradition of excellence and excitement in entertainment. Through his dedicated direction, professional integrity, and impeccable taste, generations of theatre goers have enjoyed the brightest stars and finest professional actors performing in Broadway’s best dramas, comedies, and musicals.

After four and a half decades as owner and producer, John Lane had earned his desired retirement. To perpetuate the playhouse, in 1994 he spearheaded the formation of the Ogunquit Playhouse Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation whose mission is to “preserve and maintain the Ogunquit Playhouse as a community-based performing-arts center.” John Lane pledged to transfer ownership to the foundation if it raised $500,000 within three years to ensure the longevity and maintenance of the theater and grounds.

The cash and pledges went over the top well before the deadline, and ownership was transferred in September 1997. John Lane’s extraordinary stewardship of the Ogunquit Playhouse ended after 46 years, but his legacy will endure for generations. Though John Lane passed away in the autumn of 2000, his Playhouse, continues to be a dynamic testimony to his commitment to live theatre, one that will continue to be enjoyed and appreciated by generations to come.

In September 1999 the Ogunquit Playhouse Foundation selected Roy M. Rogosin as producing artistic director in order to build a bridge between the legendary history of the Playhouse and the exciting and challenging future ahead. Part of this future involved the incremental restoration of the playhouse. For the 68th-anniversary year-2000 season the lobby underwent a beautiful refurbishing, thanks to the Ogunquit Playhouse Theatre Guild.

In addition, through the generosity of the Guild, a new gazebo adorns the south lawn, where wine and beer are served to patrons. The north-field parking lot was secured and made safe through the generosity of the Guild under the leadership of Ann Reynolds.

In 2002, the Playhouse restored the Colony Theatre as a center for Youth Theatre classes and performances as the Children’s Theatre Program continued to grow and prosper. Once again the dedicated Guild stepped up to assist with both funding for the Colony restoration and many hours of volunteer work to support the Children’s Theatre camp programs.

In 2004 the Playhouse embraced both new technology and old friends. With Broadway-quality productions worthy of the Great White Way itself, along with appearances by national stars such as Sally Struthers and Lucie Arnez, the Playhouse continued it’ role as “America’s Foremost Summer Theatre.” Complimenting the performances on the stage, the Playhouse installed a new sound system donated by the Playhouse Theatre Guild, along with the generous support of DC Audio of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Improvements to customer service were made as the Playhouse installed a new phone system and launched online ticket sales. Thanks in part to a grant funded by Kennebunk Savings Bank, the Playhouse now proudly proclaims, “Our box office never closes at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org!”

DINNER: If you are looking to catch a quick dinner before the show, then make a stop at the Old Village Inn (www.theoldvillageinn.net) at 250 Maine Street. Owned and operated by Dean Goodman, this mid -19th century inn echoes that earlier era’s gracious yet informal atmosphere which makes dining in unique charm and tasteful decor to match any mood. The varied menu offers a blend of creative and traditional American and Continental selections, all prepared to order. A carefully chosen wine list presents a wide range of selections to satisfy even the most discriminating palates. You can choose one of their many delicious entrees or go to the pub menu for something quick and convenient. We arrived less than two hours before showtime and our waitress assured us we would be served in plenty of time and could certainly choose from among their more popular dishes. That is what our party did, from the lazy man’s lobster, to some grilled shrimp served with pasta and an outstanding and crispy roasted half duck. For dessert we save room for the chocolate lava cake, made with warm melted pudding and some vanilla ice cream.

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THE ZOO: York’s Wild Kingdom – Zoo and theme park (www.yorkzoo.com) is located in York Beach and features hundreds of exotic animals from around the world. We spent an enjoyable day there and would highly recommend it. Especially fun was the butterfly exhibit and the elephant show where we met Lydia, the 59 year old 9,000 pound elephant who can actually paint and play the harmonica. The family of lemurs were so entertaining to observe, we did not want to leave their presence. A look at the lions, tigers, bears, monkees and zebras was a thrill. And who does not enjoy walking through a sea of beautiful deers who just want you to pet and feed them. There is also a small amusement park, featuring different rides. This includes a carpet slide, bumper cars and my favorite – the go karts. Save time to visit the arcade.

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SUPERB MINI-GOLF: In the town of Wells, just on the border with Ogunquit right on Route 1, you will find the Wonder Mountain Family Fun Centre and Mini-Golf. This spot is a blast! On the night we went, customers were lined up knee deep to try their luck on one of the two 18 hole courses. This is an extremely well run facililty. When they ran out of putters I figured we were in for a long evening, but things moved along a nice pace and even the wait at each hole was not too long. The people in line with us, many from Montreal, were so friendly that it was actually fun to chat between putts. Owner Andy Joakim built the first course in 1987. And the second five years later. “Large , adventure style mini golfs have been around for 30 years,” he told me. ”I happened to see one in another part of the country and built one in Wells over 20 years ago. It is a massive, risky proposition, but thankfully the project has done well.”


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Quebec: Super Aqua Club

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A few days upon my family’s return from Maine and New Hampshire, we felt that there was one activity which passed us by. Yes, we did experience a fabulous indoor water park at the Red Jacket Mountainview Resort in North Conway (see www.sandboxworld.com/travel). However, inconsistent weather in Maine forced us to forego the two outdoor water parks in that area.

Upon our return, friends told us that we actually have one of the nicest water parks in Canada only 40 minutes from West End Montreal called Super Aqua Club (www.superaquaclub.com) in the community of Pointe-Calumet. It is just past St. Eustache and easily accessible via Highway 640. There were many tourists the day we went as English was being spoken in many lines.

This facility has been around for more than 20 years, yet for some reason it took me until now to discover it. There are over 40 slides, a giant wave pool, lazy river, large sandy beach and large children’s areas. Parking is free and unlike most of attractions of this kind which try to get every penny out of you, they encourage you to bring your own canteens of food as long as no alcohol is included.

Picnic tables are scattered throughout this vast complex and even on the day we went, where there were easily thousands of visitors of all ages, we had no trouble finding a table to keep our towels and snack box. You can rent lockers for a nominal fee and, if you wish, there are concession stands. General Manager Réjean Julien Proulx supervises an excellent staff. He arrives at work at 6 a.m. each day and usually does not leave until 8:30 p.m. “I have been working here for 25 years,” he says. “I started when I was a student.”

I personally liked the wild river, toboggan and sonora rides. The drop-offs were a real surprise as you literally end up “dropping” into the lake. The tornado is perhaps the most daring experience, as four people drop into what can only be described as a giant toilet bowl and move back and forth with great speed. Water temperature here is very nice, so you are not particularly cold while waiting in line.

Super Aqua Club is open until August 30. You can call 450-473-1013 for more information.


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Michigan: Frankenmuth

When I planned our trip by car to Chicago, I decided that we would make two stops on the way from Montreal: one in the Toronto area and another in Michigan. I must admit that I had never heard of the small Michigan town of Frankenmuth ( www.frankenmuth.org ) before my brother-in-law flagged it for me.


Frankenmuth is considered “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” and it delights over three million visitors annually with loads of unique attractions, shopping, restaurants, hotels and camping, festivals, and family fun! Regardless of the time of year, the festivities are always in full bloom. Whether you come for a chicken dinner, to buy a special ornament, attend one of Frankenmuth’s many festivals or to simply see what’s new, Frankenmuth welcomes you with its flower-lined streets and Bavarian hospitality. The community of Frankenmuth is conveniently located just minutes east off I-75 between Flint and Saginaw, Michigan.

The draw in Frankenmuth turned out to be Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark ( www.zehnders.com ), which offers 152 deluxe accommodations including 63 new suites and over 30,000 square feet of aquatic fun with their Splash landing play area, Dumping Bucket, Giggling Gorge and Perilous Plunge four storey tube slides. Here you can also relax in a whimsical whirl hot tub and float along a Crooked Brook Creek lazy river. A towering 26-foot tree is a prominent feature in the new hotel lobby with a large gas fireplace built into the trunk. Zehnder’s Splash Village includes elves and fairies as part of the waterpark and hotel’s overall theme. There is also an 18-hole championship golf course. The waterpark is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m Friday through Sunday and in the summer months.The waterpark is fully staffed with certified lifeguards. Water toys and non-approved flotation devices are prohibited. Towels, inner tubes and life jackets are provided at no additional charge. Standard rooms and family suites come with four passes, and family loft suites come with six passes. Additional passes can be purchased at $15 per person per day. The purchase is limited to the maximum occupancy of your room. I strongly recommend a stay of a few nights here. You can call toll free at 1-800-863-7999.

Rooms range in price from $129 – $374, depending on the dates of stay and type of room you would like. Standard rooms sleep four guests and include two double beds. Family suites sleep four to six guests and include two queen beds, two televisions, microwave, fridge, and fireplace. Loft suites sleep four to eight guests and include the same layout as a family suite, plus : a loft with an additional queen bed, and television upstair. Parlor suites sleep up to four guests and include a king bed, double sized pull-out soft, wet bar, microwave, mini-fridge, two flat screen televisions and a jacuzzi tub.

DINING: Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth is the heart of Midwestern hospitality. In its ten dining rooms, which can seat more than 1,500 guests, Zehnder’s offers a full-service menu that features all-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinners, seafood, steaks, fresh baked goods and European desserts. Each year, Zehnder’s serves nearly a million guests with the superb hospitality that has made it a world-wide attraction. Dinners range from $15.25 to $21.50, with children’s portions and special event menus available. Our luncheon menu is available Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm. Zehnder’s is open seven days a week. (For full hours of operation, see left). We are only closed on Christmas Eve, and for our annual employee Christmas party in early January.

A tradition of good taste began 150 years ago when The Exchange Hotel opened its doors in 1856. The Zehnder family purchased the hotel in 1927 and the tradition of good food and hospitality continues today at Zehnder’s of Frankemut Hospitality abounds with traditional family style chicken dinners and tantalizing breads and pastries in the world-famous Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth restaurant.

GOLF: The power of nature shaped into one of Michigan’s most beautiful golf courses, The Fortress defends itself with its terrain, challenging bunkers and signature island hole. Situated just 435 yards from the front porch of Zehnder’s in downtown Frankenmuth, The Fortress encompasses 6,813 yards of formidible play on an 18-hole, par 72 course. About 25,000 rounds of golf are played on the course every season.

WHAT TO DO: Frankenmuth’s two world-famous landmark restaurants, along with Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, anchor the city’s picturesque Bavarian village area. Take a promenade along the main street, just a short drive or walk from the hotel and there are a variety of shops to explore not to mention a few yummy fudge stores. Choose your favorites at wine and beer sampling. Frankenmuth River Place also has 36 unique shops and attractions that include a paddlewheel riverboat and a free nightly laser show.

Frankenmuth is a family affair. Bring them all: kids, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Suzy, Uncle Ned and anybody else who wishes to tag along. The reason is entertainment, shopping,and dining enough to build memories for the whole family, wrapped in the beat of oom-pah-pah music and the traditions of its Bavarian heritage.Kids will head for River Place for AMaze- N Mirrors, losing themselves in the maze of glass and mirrors. Still more fun can be had at the haunted Midnight Manor while the teen’s head for their games and arcades. Mom, Grandma and Sister Sue head for the gifts and jewelry, boutiques, and antique shops, with a side trip to Prime Outlets of Birch Run with over 150 stores. The men in the family may prefer golf, the leather shop, and Michigan’s Own Military & Space Museum. It’s a family gathering again at the weaving shop, the 18th century flour mill, and the covered bridge over the Cass River. Kids lead the way to the glockenspiel to watch the marking of time in the tower.

As evening shadows drape the town in twilight, gatherin the Festivalà Platz of FrankenmuthRiver Place to watch the free Lights Fantastic laser show. For more activities, schedule your visit during one of Frankenmuth’s numerous festivals. With the family along, you may want to consider lodging with a pool. Riverboat tours are fun for the whole family. Proud of their Bavarian Heritage, but remembering they are Americans first, Frankenmuth citizens refer to the present in the upper part of their shield and to the past in the lower part. The American eagle stands proudly with its wings outspread over the vertical stripes denoting the 13 original states.The word “Franken” represents the Province of Franken in the Kingdom of Bavaria from where the original Frankenmuth settlers came. “Muth” means “courage” in German, thus FRANKENMUTH means “courage of the Franks.”

Frankenmuth plays host to the annual Zehnder’s Snowfest in January, the World Expo of Beer in May, the Bavarian Festival in June, the Volksläufe (People’s Race) in July, the Summer Music Fest in August, the Autofest, Oldies Fest and Oktoberfest all in September, and the Holiday Celebration & Candlewalk in November.

For more information on Frankenmuth   go to ( http://www.frankenmuth.org )

Rhode Island

Legendary Newport, Rhode Island and its wonderful suburb next door called Middletown is a very beautiful, historic American city only 75 miles southwest of Boston. It is a fabulous place for a family vacation, particularly in the summer. Whichever spot we placed our towels on the beach, there was a mom and dad with children of all ages swimming, jumping the waves and building sandcastles. So if you are traveling with an only child, there will be built in playmates guaranteed. The beaches, incidentally, are superb here. Not only are they well maintained, with concession stands, washrooms, showers and lifeguards, but the water in the summer is very warm.

In addition to its stunning seaside mansions, Newport offers beautifully restored colonial landmarks and many fine small museums. Fort Adams, the Newport Art Museum, the Newport Artillery Company, the Museum of Yachting, Redwood Library, the Tennis Hall of Fame, Touro Synagogue, Trinity Church, and more offer visitors an unrivaled opportunity to explore many aspects of America’s history. Music festivals, such as the Jazz and Folk Festivals and the Newport Music Festival, draw thousands to Newport every summer.

Kids will love the Norman Bird Sanctuary for a day of peaceful hiking and nature walks, or for viewing the marine life bring them to the Newport Aquarium. Families with young travelers will especially enjoy the exhibits at the many museums of art, history, science, naval heritage, yachting, and tennis. And the young ones will be in awe as you take them for a very educational and fun-filled tour of one of the mansions. The Breakers, for instance, is a national historic landmark built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895.The 70-room Italian renaissance-style home includes a 45-foot high central great hall. Yourself at least one hour for each tour. Packages are available which will enable you to see several of these properties for one price. Also check out the Touro Synagogue ( www.tourosynagogue.org ) at 85 Touro Street. It just happens to be the oldest synagogue in America, having just celebrated its 350th anniversary. A symbol for the nation, today, it continues as a living house of worship, and the destination for tens of thousands of visitors every year from all over the world who come away deeply affected by its ageless beauty and inspired with an appreciation of religious freedom

In terms of accommodations, this town gets extremely crowded during peak season so once you have selected the time of year you wish to visit book immediately. We recommend the Hampton Inn and Suites ( www.newporthamptoninn.com ) in Middletown, a suburb of Newport only two miles from downtown and the home of CBS TV Survivor star Richard Hatch. This year old 95 room property features 20 studio suites, four one-bedroom suites and 71 traditional rooms. The hotel features free high speed Internet access in the lobby area, business center, suite shop, guest laundry facilities, an indoor heated pool and spa, tennis courts and two meeting rooms. You can call 1-800-HAMPTON or (401) 848-6555 for more details. It is owned by a group which also operates the 35 year old Howard Johnson Inn right next door. Middletown is literally five minutes by car from Newport and I would strongly recommend you select a hotel along the West Main Road strip. Places like the Hampton Inn and Suites offer everything you need and more and at a price which is affordable. The free continental and hot breakfast is not only a bargain, but a tantalizing offer at that. If you are traveling with your extended family, the double suites allow for a lot of room including a door separating the main bedroom from another which has a pullout sofa. This place has an extraordinarily friendly staff.

As for family dining, The Mooring ( www.mooringrestaurant.com ) is Newport’s premiere waterfront restaurant in the heart of the downtown historic district. It is located on Sayer’s Wharf, directly off America’s Cup Avenue. Keep your car in the parking lot as you stroll by the different shops afterwards. Try to book seating in the Harborview Room, which presents a spectacular waterfront dining experience to enjoy the finest New England seafood and lobster. The portions here are very generous. In the spring, summer and fall, your party will enjoy ocean breezes, classic yachts and magnificent sunsets. In the winter, the warmth and New England charm of our fireside dining offers a luxurious atmosphere. The restaurant’s chefs continue to delight guests with creatively prepared meats, glacial salads, and the freshest of local fish, seafood and lobster. There is also an extensive wine list, which received the prestigious Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine five years in a row – 1996 to 2003. Start off with a look at the raw bar or choose from chowders, salads or delicious appetizers such as lump crab cakes, some tantalizing fried calamari, smoked salmon or popcorn shrimp. The main menu offers a choice of grilled seafood, grilled meats or « Mooring » classics like Seafood scampi, stuffed shrimp or lobsters. Portions are large. For the kids, there is always chicken fingers. Save room for dessert, from key lime pie to triple chocolate truffle pie, you’ll walk out of this place beyond satisfied.

For more information on Rhode Island go to ( http://www.visitrhodeisland.com )

Wannado City

Wannado City is a trend-setting children’s entertainment concept designed to inspire kids to live out their dreams in an entertaining and educational manner. It opened last summer at the gigantic Sawgrass Mills in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Upon entering, kids and their parents/grandparents are transported to a 140,000-square-foot realistically designed city – the size of three football fields. Here, they role-play hundreds of professions including firefighter, archaeologist, actor, TV or news reporter, chef, judge, airplane pilot, doctor and many more. Each “kidizen” is initially presented with their first “real” paycheck (paid in Wongas- the official currency of Wannado City ) at which time they quickly learn the value of saving, investing and spending their money. Many rush to open their own bank account, while others cash-in their first cheque and spend it on entertainment, theater tickets and even rides at the Wannado City Fair. When the Wongas run out, the kids employ themselves within Wannado City to earn more. Many try out their medical skills in the hospital and dentist’s office, while others don flight uniforms and practiced flying skills by way of flight simulators located in an authentic DC-9 jet. Aspiring actors head for the Wannado City Theater, movie and television studios while others select careers in beauty and fashion, paleontology and criminal justice. Unlike any other metropolis in America, Wannado City is a complete city created from the point of view of its kidizens. The entertainment park features multiple venues including pint-sized fire and police stations, a hospital, circus, theater, television studio, fashion house, dance club and newspaper-all designed to inspire kids ages four to 11 to play grown-up and live out their dreams. If your kids are 10 or over, you can actually leave them unaccompanied while you shop. And you’ll have no problem reconnecting with your party thanks to the WannaFinder locator bracelet. Kiosks throughout the park allow you to track your group members in real-time.

Wannado City has already begun working with schools, educational groups and other organizations to develop age-appropriate curriculum that meets state educational standards. Wannado City is open Monday to Friday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and weekends (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Admission is $27.95 for kids, $15.95 for grownups over 14 while children under three are admitted free. Wannado City has been launched by Wannado Entertainment, an entertainment company whose vision is to empower kids through the creation of reality-based, interactive properties that entertain and educate.

For more information on Wannado City go to (http://www.wannadocity.com)

Walt Disney

Prior to my most recent trip, I had been to Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista , Florida four times. But it had been at least 15 years since my previous visit to the world’s number one vacation destination.

Finding a place to stay is the first and perhaps most important decision you must make. The neighboring community of Kissimmee (www.FloridaKiss.com) provides guests with a wide variety of lodging options: national chain hotels and motels, condos, villas, suites, private vacation homes, campgrounds, and time-share units. Nearly 45,000 area-lodging options are priced to satisfy any travel budget, from budget-conscious families to luxury suites. The Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration ( www.radisson.com/orlando-celebration), for instance, is such a terrific choice for families that you might be tempted to stick around this picturesque venue and skip some time at Disney. The hotel has 718 well appointed guest rooms, double and king bed options, high speed internet access, 20 acres of lavishly landscaped grounds, a giant free-form pool with waterslide and waterfall, a heated pool, two outdoor spas, a children’s pool and playground, a fitness center with sauna, a sand-based volleyball court, two lighted tennis courts, a full service restaurant, on-site Pizza Hut pizza, a 50’s style diner and deli, a snack bar, sports lounge, gift shop, game room, and laundry facilities. Located only 1.5 miles from Disney, the hotel provides free transportation to the Disney theme parks, Sea World and Universal Studios. Kids eat free while those aged 18 and under can stay in their parents room at no cost.

For families traveling together, this place is just perfect. A family consisting of two grandparents, two parents and their kids can be accommodated perfectly. When making reservations, ask for this neat configuration: one king, one “sea” room for the kids and another with two double beds. The kids will go wild in the “sea” room, which feature bunk bed, thematic tables, chairs and games.

The stylish and recently remodeled guest rooms and suites at the hotel are richly appointed with custom crafted Italian furniture and luxurious marble and granite bathrooms. Just recently, notes director of sales and marketing Steve Crist , the hotel introduced an entertainment director who is providing activities for families and children.

Once you are settled in at the hotel, get ready for the time of your life at Disney. My most important piece of advice is to be organized. One day is never sufficient to see a single park, but it’s likely you will be forced to follow such a schedule. So get there early, grab a guide map and take at least five minutes to plot your strategy. Immediately find out where you can get a Fastpass, a superb feature which cuts your waiting time on the most popular attractions in each park. Look for the “FP” symbol and head to the attraction where you will find the Fastpass kiosk. A sign up above will tell you what time you can return, minus the lineup once you insert each admission ticket from your party into the automatic machine and receive Fastpass tickets. You usually have to let an hour pass before you can try for a Fastpass elsewhere.

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom represents true Disney, so make this your first destination. Seven happy lands transport guests to worlds of fantasy, adventure and wonder at Magic Kingdom . Nestled on the shores of the picturesque Seven Seas Lagoon, from the moment guests step through the Magic Kingdom turnstiles they enter a storybook realm filled with Disney characters at every turn, classic attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and dazzling entertainment such as “Cinderellabration,” “SpectroMagic,” “Share a Dream Come True” and “Wishes.” Arranged in a circular layout with the golden spires of Cinderella Castle towering over the center, the seven lands of the Magic Kingdom are Main Street, U.S.A., a re-creation of a bustling thoroughfare in early 20th century America, complete with horse-drawn trolley and vintage barbershop. Major attractions include the Walt Disney World Railroad, a vintage steam engine that provides a scenic trip around the park with stops in Frontierland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Adventureland is an exotic land of jungles and wild animals. Major attractions include Pirates of the Caribbean , a rollicking buccaneer boat ride; Jungle Cruise, a tongue-in-cheek trek down the world’s most famous rivers; and The Enchanted Tiki Room — Under New Management, which puts a humorous spin on Disney’s first attraction to feature the three-dimensional storytelling of Audio-Animatronics. Frontierland brings you tall tales of the Wild West as cowboys and miners roam. Major attractions include Splash Mountain , a zip-a-dee-doo-dah log ride in search of Br’er Rabbit’s “laughing place”; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a roller coaster ride through towering mesas and an unstable mine; and Country Bear Jamboree, a raucous revue of singing bears.

At Liberty Square you can step back to the age of colonial America in this land honoring the country’s early heritage. Major attractions include the Haunted Mansion, a gothic manor containing a host of family-friendly frights from 999 happy haunts; and the Hall of Presidents, a stirring Audio-Animatronics® salute to the United States’ chief executives and the struggles that built America. Fantasyland features fairy tales springing from storybook pages in a whimsical land of castles, princesses and flying elephants. Major attractions include the amazing Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a 3-D “sym-funny” of Disney music and characters presented in cutting-edge computer animation; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which sends guests on a gentle journey through the Hundred Acre Wood; and Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, a beautifully preserved merry-go-round of mighty steeds. Mickey’s Toontown Fair features Mickey, Minnie and the gang live in this quaint country neighborhood. Major attractions include The Barnstormer, a kid-friendly roller coaster that zooms through Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm; and Mickey’s Country House, a walk-through tour of the famous mouse’s house where guests have an opportunity to meet Mickey privately. Then there is Tomorrowland, where you will leap forward into the future in this neon-lit land of rocket ships and aliens. Major attractions include Stitch’s Great Escape! a close encounter with the naughty alien of “Lilo & Stitch,” Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, a whirling interactive battle against Evil Emperor Zurg; and Space Mountain, a high-speed roller coaster ride through the cosmos.

There are a lot of new things to explore here. At “Cinderellabration,” Disney’s most beloved princesses gather for Cinderella’s glittering coronation ceremony in this lavish daily stage show adapted from a popular production at Tokyo Disneyland. Stitch’s Great Escape is set before the events of Walt Disney Pictures’ animated comedy “Lilo & Stitch.” This fun new Tomorrowland attraction showcases the pandemonium caused by the mischievous “Experiment 626” — a.k.a. Stitch — at the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center . “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” involves moments and music from classic Disney animated films through widescreen 3-D . In “Wishes” the voice of Jiminy Cricket narrates a story-in-the-sky fireworks spectacular about making wishes come true — the biggest, boldest pyrotechnics display ever presented at Magic Kingdom . And in Share a Dream Come True” Mickey Mouse leads a fanciful daily parade of larger-than-life snow globes, Disney characters and live performers from Frontierland to Main Street, U.S.A., in a celebration of Disney animation.

Epcot

Epcot was always one of my favorite stops. This is where can you travel to four continents, soar over the richly diverse landscape of the Golden State, take a rocket ride to Mars, explore land and sea adventures, experience future technologies today and journey into your imagination. Recognized as Disney’s celebration of human achievement and discovery, Epcot features Future World and World Showcase. The former is a high-energy, high-tech land where guests interact with exhibits, visit a home of the future, thrill to the pulse-racing liftoff of Mission: SPACE, and experience Soarin,’ an exhilarating aerial adventure that immerses guests in a multi-sensory experience, complete with sights, sounds, scents and the caress of warm breezes. The latter includes a world of multi-cultural enchantment, featuring marketplaces bustling with international flavour and a dazzling display of countries that transports guests through the magical worlds of 11 nations with just a few steps.

There’s something new around every corner at Epcot, including “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” a thunderous fireworks spectacular like no other. Family fun continues at “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” “Ellen’s Energy Adventure,” “Turtle Talk With Crush” and Innoventions. Epcot is the site for one-of-a-kind world entertainment and special events, including the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, one of the world’s largest outdoor festivals of its kind; Epcot International Food and Wine Festival; and Epcot Summer Series, featuring world-renowned live entertainment.

From toddlers to teens, “Epcot kids” will discover hands-on activities, high-tech adventure and thrills at every turn. In World Showcase, young guests can create their own Epcot souvenirs at the park’s Kidcot Funstops. Craftsmen teach the budding artisans how to create a one-of-a-kind mask or a musical instrument using their own magical touch. Want to meet your favorite Disney character? At World Showcase, you might spot Mickey and his friends at The American Adventure, Belle and the Beast at France , Snow White in Germany (home to a miniature train and village), or Jasmine and Aladdin in Morocco . You may even see the whole gang coming your way in a double-decker bus ready for a sing-along.

The Disney Princesses — Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Ariel, Alice and Mulan — are special guests at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway . The World Showcase eatery, inspired by the famous 14th century Castle Akershus in the city of Oslo , Norway , is the perfect setting for a “royal” breakfast, lunch or dinner. Make reservations through 407/WDW-DINE. In Future World, kids can make friends with Crush, an animated sea turtle that chats with them at The Living Seas, or explore their imaginations with Figment at the Imagination! pavilion. Soarin’ gives Epcot guests a bird’s-eye view of California with a breathtaking glide over the majestic natural wonders and varied terrain of the Golden State . Epcot’s newest attraction is an exciting, wind-in-your-hair adventure above towering redwoods, picturesque snow-capped mountains, expansive sun-kissed deserts and the crashing waves of the Pacific coast. Soarin’ is located at The Land presented by Nestlé USA .

Mission : SPACE is considered Disney’s most thrilling attraction ever, now taking cadets into deep space. Located in Future World, Mission : SPACE uses the same technology created by NASA to train their astronauts. The result is a heart-pounding liftoff and spectacular trip through space sure to bring guests back for more. Thanks to Disney’s FASTPASS, featured at Soarin’, Mission : SPACE, Maelstrom, Living with the Land and “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” kids and their parents can reduce wait time and enjoy more time in the park — and there’s no additional charge.

Spaceship Earth is Future World’s landmark adventure. Dramatic scenes in the attraction and its post show depict life in the 21st century’s Global Neighbourhood. With narration by actor Jeremy Irons and an impressive musical score, guests experience a time-travel journey from the beginning of time to the electronic age. Soarin’ takes guests on an exhilarating aerial journey over California , with a bird’s-eye view and an extraordinary sensation of free flight. Using stunning cinematic artistry and Imagineering-developed motion-based technology, the experience is intensified with sweeping winds and the fragrance of orange blossoms and pine trees. Mission : SPACE presented by HP offers guests a one-of-a-kind simulated space adventure — from heart-pounding liftoff to the weightlessness of outer space. Test Track, presented by General Motors, invites guests to buckle up and brace themselves for the longest and fastest ride ever in Vacation Kingdom history. Universe of Energy features “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” with Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Lee Curtis and Bill Nye the Science Guy. DeGeneres plays a woman who dreams she’s on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” As part of the show, guests venture into a re-creation of the primeval world complete with moving, roaring, life-size dinosaurs. Imagination! presented by Kodak includes Journey Into Imagination with Figment, featuring the playful purple dragon demonstrating the power of imagination; ImageWorks-The Kodak “What If?” Labs; and the 3-D sensation “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.”

The Land, presented by Nestle USA, features Soarin'(our fast pass told us to come back in five hours and we returned to no lineup and an experience I won’t soon forget); the motion picture “Circle of Life,” an environmental fable starring several characters from “The Lion King”; and the Living with the Land boat ride through greenhouses of the future. The Living Seas includes the world’s largest saltwater aquarium, featuring a two-story viewing area of a coral reef filled with colourful marine life, and “Turtle Talk With Crush,” a real-time animated character that talks, plays and jokes with guests. Innoventions, a dazzling showcase where guests can be among the first to experience the technologies of today that will shape their lives tomorrow. Wonders of Life, now operating seasonally, features Body Wars, a flight-simulator thrill ride through the human body, and a variety of shows and activities celebrating human life.

Across World Showcase Lagoon, 11 nations display authentic wares, ethnic cuisine, shows, entertainment and architecture representing their cultures. World Showcase ambassadors come from across the globe to represent their homelands. As part of the show, holidays and festivals are commemorated by the ambassadors in ways they would be celebrated “back home,” allowing Epcot guests to join in these international celebrations. Even the landscaping changes from country to country around the 1.3-mile promenade. Clockwise around the promenade you have Mexico, with an authentic marketplace, lively Mariachi bands and a boat ride through Mexican history; Norway, where guests embark on a voyage through time beginning in a 10th century Viking village; China, with unique live entertainment and a Circle-Vision 360 film, “Reflections of China,” that showcases past and present China and takes guests to seven cities around the country; Germany transports guests with authentic surroundings inspired by towns along the Rhine and in Bavaria; Italy, romance and beauty featured in a reproduction Doge’s Palace of Venice; The American Adventure showcases important moments in U.S. history; Japan, featuring spectacular gardens and outdoor entertainment; Morocco, where 19 Moroccan artisans spent months re-creating the intricate, colorful tile masterpieces of this North African country; France, the setting for fresh bakeries, beautiful shops and gardens, artists and an enchanting film tour through its cities and countryside; United Kingdom, with lovely flower gardens, cobbled streets and corner pub; and Canada, with entertainment by a bagpipe band and a Circle-Vision 360 film through some of Canada’s most picturesque regions.

Animal Kingdom

This was my first time visiting Animal Kingdom. Conquer a forbidden mountain guarded by a mysterious yeti. Travel back in time — way back — to a world of ferocious dinosaurs. Surround yourself with the music and magic of a Broadway-caliber performance in the “Festival of the Lion King” show. Hop aboard a real safari and explore the wilds of Africa . Ride raging rapids through a threatened rainforest, or marvel at tigers, fruit bats and other creatures amid the ruins of an ancient Asian village.

Expedition Everest, featuring screaming coaster-like thrills up, down and through a towering mountain full of amazing effects, is the latest adventure awaiting guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Laid out in a classic hub-and-spoke Disney style, this newest and fourth major theme park at Disney first welcomes guests into The Oasis, a lush gateway to adventure populated by deer, anteaters, tree kangaroos and other animals. The park’s fun-filled lands radiate from the centrally located Discovery Island, where The Tree of Life park icon towers 145 feet above guests and houses the hilarious 3-D film and special effects attraction, “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” From there, guests can explore Asia, featuring the new Expedition Everest, a white-knuckle adventure into the unknown world of a mystical yeti; Kali River Rapids, a white-water raft adventure; Maharajah Jungle Trek with tigers, gibbons, Komodo dragons and other creatures; and “Flights of Wonder,” an exotic bird show. Africa is home to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Harambe village, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Wildlife Express steam train. DinoLand U.S.A. , with Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama! “mini-land” featuring Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin, the DINOSAUR thrill ride, The Bone yard excavation play area and Cretaceous Trail. Camp Minnie-Mickey , with the “Festival of the Lion King” stage show, Pocahontas in the “Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends” stage show, and Disney character meet-and-greet pavilions featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and other favorites.

A mountain range is peaking in Asia at Expedition Everest. Explorers encounter surprises aboard a runaway train adventure that combines coaster-like thrills with an encounter of the hairy kind. The story of yeti as protector of the sacred mountain is told throughout the mythical village rich with Himalayan culture and tradition. Kali River Rapids is a white-water rafting expedition in the land of Asia . Guests are launched on 12-person rafts into the turbulent Chakranadi River for a wet journey of twists, turns and fiery adventure. A surprise awaits around every turn, including an abrupt drop into racing, splashing waters.

Asia ‘s other main attraction, Maharajah Jungle Trek, is a breathtaking journey through the lush home of myriad animal and bird species. In this rainforest environment, Nepal , India , Thailand and Indonesia all are represented through architecture, animal carvings and ruins scattered throughout the village. The exotic animals are visible from the top of a parapet, through a stand of bamboo and from a bridge that stands amid the ruins near an old herb garden.

“Flights of Wonder,” a humorous show highlighting the beauty and diversity of birds at Caravan Stage outdoor amphitheatre, is also a part of Asia . The setting for “Flights of Wonder” is a crumbling Asian town where macaws, ibis, pelicans and other birds emerge from their alcoves to soar overhead. Which birds show off on any given day is part of the surprise, but all birds are being taught to show off their natural talent, not “do tricks.” Trainers demonstrate how birds respond to special audio or visual clues, how they hunt and eat. “Flights of Wonder” is one of many shows and demonstrations in Disney’s Animal Kingdom designed to entertain while inspiring guests to a greater awareness of animals and what threatens them around the world. Bugs are another matter. They may not shake the earth, but they know how to shake up an audience in “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” at The Tree of Life Theatre. With advanced 3-D and Audio-Animatronics technology combined with surprising special effects, this insect adventure leaves guests laughing and screaming for more. The magical music of the Disney classic “The Lion King” combines with dance, acrobatics and elaborate staging and costuming to inspire one of the theme park’s most talked-about shows, “Festival of the Lion King” at Camp Minnie-Mickey.

At the heart of DinoLand U.S.A., guests discover DINOSAUR, where they board time-traveling vehicles to zoom back 65 million years on a twisting, lurching journey to save the last dinosaur from extinction before the crash of a fiery asteroid. A busy paleontological “dig,” The Boneyard, provides plenty of fun activity for children as they climb, crawl and slide throughout the well-preserved skeletons of triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex. Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama! captures the essence of a campy roadside fair. Guests can take a spin on Primeval Whirl, a fun-filled family coaster, or TriceraTop Spin, a playful open-air, toy-top attraction. Old-fashioned amusement games round out the fun. From the thrilling era of the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago, Disney guests can travel on to an African savannah of today, where rare and wonderful creatures such as black rhinos, hippos, African elephants and lions roam openly. On Kilimanjaro Safaris, passengers experience a true African safari in vehicles that bounce over rutted roads, ford through pools of hippos and pass herds of zebra, giraffe, gazelle, elephants and other animals. We attempted to Fast Pass this attraction, but chose to wait in line for 50 minutes rather than return in four hours.

At the end of the 20-minute safari, visitors can follow Pangani Forest Exploration Trail into an Eden-like world of streams and splashing waterfalls. Pangani Forest is home to a troop of endangered lowland gorillas. Hippos — viewed from under water — meerkats and tropical birds live along the shady walking trail. For an up-close look at more of the real animals inhabiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests can board the Wildlife Express steam train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. An interactive backstage look at how the park’s animals are kept happy and healthy, Rafiki’s Planet Watch features: Animal Cam, with a peek into animal care areas; hands-on displays for the opportunity to participate in conservation and species-survival efforts; and The Affection Section, where guests can meet and pet small domestic animals such as goats and sheep. A wondrous audio experience transports guests into a threatened rainforest.

Animals have played an important part in Disney stories from the earliest Mickey Mouse films to the “True-Life Adventures” television series in the 1950s to “The Lion King” in feature motion pictures.

And a few more tips: reserve some time in your schedule to spend a night at Downtown Disney, featuring blocks of shops full of delights from music to memorabilia. There’s plenty of food and activities. Finally, consider the park hopper option when purchasing your ticket. It allows you to see more than one park on a single day. With Disney’s superb in-house and free transportation system this is a task made much easier.

For more information on Walt Disney go to http://disneyworld.disney.go.com

Chicago

Chicago is a bustling, energetic city that never stops no matter the season. It’s a destination with world-class cultural attractions, diverse neighborhoods and architectural wonders. Chicago is known for critically acclaimed restaurants, world-famous museums, first-class shopping, adventurous nightlife, action-packed sporting events and a thriving theater scene. It is a fabulous spot to enjoy a family vacation.

PERFORMING ARTS:
Chicago’s theatre industry pushes the envelope with cutting-edge performances in historic and state-of-the-art stages. The Chicago Theatre Goodman, LaSalle Bank, Cadillac Palace, Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and the Ford Center have made visiting downtown a must for theatre lovers. Distinctive theaters can also be found throughout Chicago neighborhoods. Theaters like the Steppenwolf and The Second City, all weave themselves into Chicago neighborhoods solidifying Chicago’s reputation as a world-class theater destination. Until I visited Chicago for the first time, I always thought one had to travel to New York City to see true Broadway productions. Was I wrong? There’s no place like the Windy City”… Wicked, the Broadway musical phenomenon telling the untold story of the Witches of Oz, continue casting a spell on Chicago in an unprecedented open-ended run at the Ford Center (24 W. Randolph St., Chicago). The dedicated Chicago company opened in June 2005 and remains the most ‘Popular’ show in all of Oz; Even more remarkable, though, is the show’s status as a landmark destination for visitors and tourists – nearly 50 percent of Wicked’s audience in Chicago travels from outside the metropolitan area to see the hit musical. Planning a complete Windy City Wicked getaway is easier than a click of the heels with these tips and resources. Tickets range in price from $25 to $90 and should be purchased several weeks in advance. The Broadway In Chicago ticket line is (312) 902-1400 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Current and up-to-date ticket information is available at www.wickedthemusical.com/chicago/tickets

DINING OUT:
How lucky could I get than to find Chicago’s most popular restaurant right next door to my hotel? When I booked our room at the Homewood Suites I had no idea that Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab was seconds away at 60 East Grand. The franchise was originally established by businessman Joe Weiss in Miami Beach over 90 years ago. In 2000, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab™ opened its doors in Chicago. This Chicago Joe’s builds upon the grand tradition that began in Miami Beach and adds a unique urban twist to the experience. The stone crab claws with mustard sauce are a signature dish of course, and Joe’s bone-in signature filet mignon is exceptional. Joe’s also features an extensive selection of seafood, flown in fresh daily. The stone crab bisque is not to be missed. Ditto for the parmesan-crusted Alaskan halibut. Add one of Joe’s famous side dishes, like hashed brown potatoes or roasted sweet corn and finish with a slice of the justifiably famous key lime pie, cherry pie with jubilee sauce, or Boston cream pie. Mix it with an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere, a bustling bar scene and impeccably dressed, tuxedo-clad waiter staff such as our phenomenal server Oz, and you’ve got the makings of a new legend. A children’s menu, by the way, has a number of choices, all for $6.95. Go to www.icon.com/joes to learn more about this “must” dining experience.

MUSEUMS:
Chicago is world-renowned for its diverse collection of museums, which explore a variety of subjects including Chicago history, art, African-American culture, astronomy, natural history and much more. Those visiting Chicago should plan on spending time at Chicago’s Museum Campus. The scenic park conveniently joins the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, the Shedd Aquarium/Oceanarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History with easy access to all three locations. The John G. Shedd Aquarium (www.sheddaquarium.org), a non-profit institution dedicated to public education and conservation, is known as “The World’s Aquarium.” Beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, the facility houses nearly 22,000 aquatic animals representing some 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world. The galleries in the original aquarium contain a wide variety of freshwater and saltwater exhibits while the 90,000-gallon Caribbean Reef is home to more than 250 tropical Caribbean reef animals including sharks, eel, a sea turtle and a host of colorful fish. Meanwhile, the marine mammal pavilion features beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Alaska sea otters and harbor seals in a dramatic re-creation of a Pacific Northwest coastal environment. Wild Reef is the Shedd Aquarium’s newest exhibit. Guests have the opportunity to explore a Philippine coral reef – the most diverse underwater ecosystem in the world. They are able to come face-to-face with more than 25 sharks and enjoy the beauty of corals in the largest public display of live corals in the Midwest. Adults and children alike get a glimpse of island life through this multi-sensory, interactive exhibit. The exhibit’s 26 interconnected habitats – totaling more than 750,000 gallons of water – are housed in a new $45 million underground wing. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, selected holidays and weekdays.

Other Chicago museums include the Chicago History Museum (the city’s oldest cultural institution), McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum (Chicago’s newest museum), the Museum of Science and Industry, the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the Art Institute of Chicago (one of the world’s leading art museums), the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

ATTRACTIONS:
In addition to world-renowned museums, Chicago is home to a variety of spectacular attractions. The Chicago Cultural Center is described as a “neo-classical masterpiece” that features two art-glass domes and glittering mosaic walls. The many galleries in the Cultural Center exhibit contemporary art from around town and works from around the world. Navy Pier is the city’s lakefront playground and the state’s most popular attraction, offering visitors a unique blend of family-oriented attractions. This famed attraction boasts the 150-foot high Ferris wheel, a musical carousel, the Chicago Children’s Museum, Wave Swinger ride in Pier Park, a 3-D Time Escape ride, a variety of restaurants and the famed Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Chicago’s newest global icon is Millennium Park which opened in 2004. The 24.5 acre park has instantly become a world-class attraction and a Chicago landmark. It contains an outdoor performing arts pavilion, indoor year-round theatre, restaurant, ice-skating rink, contemporary garden, public art, fountains, promenade area for special events, landscaped walkways and green spaces. Other Chicago attractions not to miss include Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park, the Hancock Observatory and the Sears Tower Skydeck.

Chicago also has some amazing beaches right in the city. I would strongly recommend North Beach right on Lakeshore Boulevard. Park across the street at the Lincoln Zoo. You can then take an elevated skywalk towards the sand and warm water of Lake Michigan. Full concession stands and washroom facilities are available.

AMUSEMENT PARK:
Six Flags Great America http://www.sixflags.com/greatAmerica is located in Gurnee, Illinois, halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. The 31-year-old park, which is open May through October, boasts eight themed sections, a 13-acre water park called Hurricane Harbor, three specially themed children’s areas, and various other forms of entertainment. There are 13 roller-coasters, including everything from traditional woodies to a bone-rattling hyper-coaster. Altogether there are over 75 rides and attractions. If you purchase a special flash pass, you will have the benefit of not waiting very long in line for some of the more popular rides.

This year the park introduced the action-packed original stunt show, “Operation SpyGirl,” from the creator of the popular TV show, “24.” It takes place in the 3,500-seat Southwest Amphitheatre. Visitors get to witness “Operation SpyGirl’s” heroine save the world in 24 minutes at the conclusion of a dramatic storyline featuring a series of twists, turns, and action sequences. Spy Girl battles against both a ticking clock and the evil arch- villain Max Condor in her attempt to save the world. And a new Wiggle’s World area has very young children wiggling along to rides and shows based on the popular TV program. Younger kids will also enjoy Looney Tunes National Park with rides, shows, and a huge interactive play center designed for them.

In the 1,450-seat Grand Music Hall you can see “Show Stopping,” an all-new show celebrating popular music genres like country, rock, pop, and R&B. Featuring four lead vocalists and 10 backup vocalists and dancers, this 40-minute music spectacular will rock your socks off with the latest American music hits and never-before-heard musical compilations.

The Bugs Bunny talk show includes all of the rabbit’s Looney Tunes pals n the 1,300-seat Theatre Royale, located in the Mardi Gras section of the park. The young and young at heart will be blown away at the Pictorium. Special 3D glasses and a 96 by 72-foot movie screen, the largest of its kind in the world, help bring Marvin the Martian in the 3rd Dimension to life! Featuring favorite Looney Tunes characters Marvin the Martian and Daffy Duck, this show runs several times daily. Be sure to stick around after the show to meet Marvin the Martian. Guests get a little education with their entertainment at the all new “Serpent Safari Animal Show.” This show takes place in the Southwest Territory section of the park at the Serpent Safari Stage where you can meet one-of-a-kind reptiles and other animals in an interactive environment. When you pass through the Mardi Gras section of the park, be sure and check out Manny B and the Rhythm Nights. For six years running, this live band has been rocking on an outdoor stage for guests who stop by to sing and dance along with the music.

One performance no guest will want to miss is the daily “Celebrate the Joy Parade.” This all new, main street-style parade, winds through the County Fair section of the park. Featuring over 20 performers and several dance stops, some lucky park guests will also have the chance to participate as honourary grand marshals. No day at Six Flags Great America would be complete without taking in the award-winning Bugs Bunny’s Starlight Spectacular parade featuring an amazing pyrotechnics show. The show kicks off in Hometown Square with “Jumpin’ Jammin Jubilee,” a fifteen-minute pre-show with live performers who lead the floats along the parade route. Guests can view several live performances along the parade route, which ends in the Mardi Gras section of the park.

The theme park operates daily until September 3 and then reverts to weekends until October 28 with the conclusion of Halloween Fright Fest.

SHOPPING:
A visit to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without a shopping spree. Shopping in Chicago began on State Street (that great street!) with the opening of the original Marshall Field’s Department store in 1852. Today, the former Field’s flagship store is known as Macy’s on State Street and shoppers will find an outstanding selection of men’s and women’s apparel, an extensive housewares department, several fine restaurants, a food court and a visitor center. State Street is also home to another famous Chicago department store, Carson Pirie Scott, where customers are drawn into the entrance of the store by the ornate ironwork designed by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan in 1899. A shopping spree must include a visit to the famed “Magnificent Mile,” which runs along Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to the Chicago River. Amidst department store giants such as Marshall Field’s, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, are hundreds of specialty shops and boutiques offering goods from around the world. Oak Street, just west of Michigan Avenue, is a boutique shopper’s dream. An abundance of shopping can also be found at Westfield North Bridge, Water Tower Place, the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops, Chicago Place Shopping Center, Navy Pier and “The Shops at the Mart” located at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

ARCHITECTURE:
Visitors from around the world come to Chicago, the birthplace of the modern building, to admire its architectural marvels. From historic landmark buildings to contemporary technological masterpieces, Chicago is built of the unique and innovative designs that have shaped American architecture. The city is a living museum of architecture thanks to the work of such greats as Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Helmut Jahn and hundreds of others. Chicago is home to the world’s first skyscraper designed by William Le Baron Jenney in 1885. Although the Home Insurance Building no longer stands, today Chicago is also home to three of the world’s 10 tallest buildings including the Sears Tower, which opened in 1974. Other city landmark buildings include the Chicago Cultural Center – completed in 1897 in the Beaux Arts style, Adler and Sullivan’s 1889 Auditorium Building, and the Art Deco era Chicago Board of Trade Building, designed by Holabird and Root in 1929.

WHERE TO STAY:
When you are going to Chicago for an extended stay of 10 nights like we did you want to stay somewhere comfortable, affordable and conveniently located. Enter the Homewood Suites www.homewoodsuiteschicago.com, right in the heart of downtown at 40 East Grand Avenue. Staying at the Homewood Suites Downtown Chicago will be the easiest decision you’ll ever make. The guest suite accommodations are just seconds away from the Chicago Loop area and other business districts.

Guests of this Homewood Suites hotel can overlook Chicago’s well known architecture while enjoying the daily complimentary Suite Start hot breakfast or the Welcome Home reception featuring a complimentary light meal and beverages Monday through Thursday evenings. The breakfast is really something special. What is most appreciated by guests is the fact the hotel encourages you to take food back to your room by providing styrofoam containers.

The spacious two room suites at the Homewood Suites by Hilton are designed with comfortable accommodations for both business and leisure travelers staying for a few days or a few weeks. Guests are well taken care of with the fully equipped kitchens complete with refrigerators, microwave ovens, stove top burners and cooking utensils. A dishwasher is also provided; however, the Suite-keepers insist on doing the dishes. A large Jewel and Osco grocery store is a mere block and a half away, making it easy to stock the fridge regularly.

All guest rooms come with high-speed Internet access and a two-line phone with voicemail.Guests can pamper themselves in the indoor pool, located in the 19th floor with panoramic views of the beautiful Windy City or workout in the cardiovascular fitness center.

Recent renovations included new carpet installation and hardwood floors in all guest rooms, the addition of 32 inch flat screen Hi-Def LCD TVs in the living quarters in addition to classic art displays featuring historical sights and attractions of the Windy City. The final phase focused on the “Home Improvement” of their suite accommodations to include new furniture in both the living and sleeping areas. The “Distinctly Homewood” bedding package includes Serta Sweet Dream mattresses, upgraded linens with duvet cover, down comforter and an assortment of pillows to add to your comforts of home.

If you are coming with your car, the hotel offers valet parking with unlimited in and out privileges. Ask for valet manager Rod, one of the friendliest guys you will ever meet who makes a habit of remembering every client’s name. You need not to worry about your valuables as they offer a safety deposit box for your safekeeping. You will love the room service that the hotel offers while the laundry/valet service and coin laundry services keeps your clothes clean.

For more information call 312-644-2222.

For more information on Chicago go to http://www.choosechicago.com

Coral Gables

When vacationing in South Florida, it is always nice to explore new destinations. Such was the case for my family recently when we spent some quality time in the city of Coral Gables (www.citybeautiful.net), home to 175 multinationals, 26 consulates and trade offices and more than 30 fine art galleries. Known as the Fine Dining Capital of South Florida, it has the highest concentration of live theater in Miami-Dade County.

Growth in the commercial sector has brought a wealth of new activities to the area, including nighttime entertainment, live music, casual and fine dining, and new retail options. The city is home to many historic landmarks as well as 22 parks, 33 public tennis courts, two public golf courses, and other first-class recreation amenities. Among them: are the largest tropical botanical garden in the continental United States, a spring-fed grotto swimming pool made of native coral rock with underwater caves, tree-lined bike paths and walking trails, and more. Also located in the heart of Coral Gables is the University of Miami, one of only 29 private research universities in the nation, educating nearly 15,000 students a year from every state and more than 100 countries.

Coral Gables is indeed the place to shop. The Village of Merrick Park (www.villageofmerrickpark.com) is where fashion and style come to life, featuring Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom and 115 other world-class retail shops and restaurants. The kids will enjoy this open-air shopping experience. The famed Miracle Mile and its surrounding downtown streets with their European-style outdoor cafes, provide visitors with an enjoyable tropical shopping experience. In terms of the arts, the Actors’ Playhouse (www.actorsplayhouse.org) at the Miracle Theatre offers first-class productions, many suitable for children. In the past, we have seen a Broadway-caliber production of Beauty and the Beast.

Fairchild Tropical Garden is an 83-acre natural preserve on the edge of Coral Gables that offers something for everyone. There are guided walking tours, tram tours, and special seasonal events. Matheson Hammock Park is known worldwide for its beautiful flora and fauna. Coral Gables is an art lover’s paradise. The city is home to dozens of art galleries. Visitors can also ride the new vintage-style, hybrid electric trolleys – a free and convenient way to move around the shopping and entertainment destinations in downtown Coral Gables.

For more information on Coral Gables go to http://www.coralgables.com

Lisle

My family and I recently ended up spending some time in the Village of Lisle, a 45-minute drive from downtown Chicago, when friends of ours invited us to join them in nearby Naperville. A quick search of the Lisle Park District website (www.lisleparkdistrict.org) brought Sea Lion Aquatic Park to my attention. I must say this ranks as the single best water facility I have ever experienced. The 25-yard six-lane lap pool is the pride and joy of the Sea Lion Swim Team. It features a raised spectator deck that also serves as the adult deck during open swim hours. Sea Lion Park features two fast, steep body flume slides and two drop slides. In order to ride the slides, patrons must be at least 40 inches tall. The Teen Leisure Pool is designed for teens ages 12 and up. This pool is located in the center of the waterpark so that teens have access to all the interactive water features. As for the Baby Pool & Sand Play, these areas feature age-appropriate, interactive water play areas for children ages 5 and under. Stroller parking is conveniently located nearby. Meanwhile, the vortex pool is designed as a mini-lazy river. The gentle current in this feature is therapeutic for muscles and joints and provides resistance during water aerobics. The unique splash aquatic playground has several interactive water games and sprays suitable for all ages. There is a zero-depth pool that leads into the vortex and lap pools and is a great place to relax or play. Finally, leave some time to relax in the outdoor jacuzzi. The facility has an exceptional lifeguard service and an ample supply of comfortable lawn chairs to relax on. For more information, call 630-964-3410 or email info@lisleparkdistrict.org

DINING: Lisle Park District’s River Bend Golf Club at 5900 S. Route 53 is rated one of the top three nine-hole courses in the state of Illinois. This beautifully manicured course features nine holes of bent grass tees, greens and fairways. The links-style layout features scenic wetland areas with water coming into play on eight out of nine holes. The par 36 design plays up to 3,500 yards and has three sets of tees to accommodate all ability levels. After a long golf outing or a day at the pool, you can relax afterward watch sports on the flat-screen TV, and enjoy a beverage and meal at The View Restaurant & Bar in the clubhouse. Our group of seven dined there. Not only did we marvel at the wonderful service, but the menu had something for everybody notably the kids who had plenty of choices ranging in price from $2 to $5.49. The $4.99 tossed house salad is big enough to feed four people. Their burgers, soups, sandwiches, pasta and house specialties such as tilapia and New York strips come highly recommended. For details log on to www.riverbendgolfclub.org or call 630-968-1920.

WHERE TO STAY: Our friends stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Naperville (1820 Abriter Court) and spoke very highly about the accommodations. Always fresh, clean and bright, the newly renovated 83 guest rooms and 22 executive suites include a well-lit work desk, remote-controlled TV with cable and pay-per-view movies, individual climate control, a separate vanity area with hairdryer and free local phone calls. Coffee makers are in all the suites. Expanded complimentary continental breakfast buffet, indoor pool, spa, fitness room, boardroom, same-day dry cleaning as well as an in-house guest laundry room add to your convenient location for business or pleasure. Try this link: http://www.marriott.com/hotels/fact-sheet/travel/chifn-fairfield-inn-and-suites-chicago-naperville.

SHOPPING: The Lisle area offers limitless shopping opportunities that include neighborhood shopping as well as indoor and outdoor malls. There are many shopping options available in Lisle for bakery, hair and nails, flowers, banking, insurance, eye care, printing and copying, dry cleaning, upholstery, jewelry and fitness. College Square is a unique neighborhood shopping center located in Lisle, offering shopping, food, and family and business services. Meanwhile, downtown Naperville offers the best of both worlds: unique family-owned shops like The Artist Works, Anderson’s Bookshop, Deborah Jean, and the City Meat Market, as well as fine anchor stores like Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer, Barnes & Noble, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn and The Gap.