Exploring Montage Palmetto Bluff–A South Carolina Oasis

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Your swing awaits on the walking trails of Montage Palmetto Bluff Resort

Stunning, I must have used these words a thousand times on my recent trip to Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. Just 30 minutes from the great city of Savannah, Georgia (a personal bucket list city for me), it was a nice easy drive from central Florida and absolutely, without a doubt worth going to from anywhere in the country. The resort is set on over 20,000 acres and the scenery is just absolutely gorgeous. There is no detail forgotten and just when you think, “It can’t get any better than this,” it does.

The grounds are gorgeous with stunning views and walking trails, enticing you bounce out of bed early to get your morning run or walk in (They even have a running concierge). I selected a trail taking me along the river to a mossy oak covered path of trees. Throughout the property, there are many bridges and quaint spots—like the town center with the picturesque church—perfect for a destination wedding. There is something for the entire family and because of the various types of accommodations and activities, this property is perfect for multi-generational travel as well.

Bluffton, South Carolina

Montage Palmetto Bluff Conservancy

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The quaint village–perfect for a destination wedding!

Montage Palmetto Bluff has three types of accommodations—inn guest rooms and suites, cottages/residences and village homes. Guests of the resort can enjoy the entire property and the resort fee includes the use of kayaks and canoes, fishing poles, tennis, croquet use of the pool and spa facility (spa treatments are extra), fitness center and  fitness classes and a plethora of activities the resort has to offer. It even includes the gratuities for the bellman, housekeeping and the concierge.  The property boasts a Jack Nicholas 18-hole signature, private golf course, so if you aren’t a guest of the resort, you aren’t getting in. (Highly recommended on the golf club menu is the hotdog. It’s all beef, wrapped in bacon and well, shall we say some things are just worth having and this was.) Both golf and bike rentals are available at additional fees.

Montage Palmetto Bluff May River Golf Course
Views from the May River Golf Course

One of the things that excited me the most was seeing kids riding bikes everywhere. These days’ kids spend a lot of time indoors, so it was really nice to see them out enjoying the day with their families. And, who wouldn’t when you have an awesome bicycle with a bell and a basket? There is also a state of the art bowling alley and a game room on property. Did I mention the awesome tree houses? Just seeing a tree house brings me back to my childhood, I mean, “Who didn’t want a tree house growing up?” There are two of them on property—one more than four stories high with incredible views of the waterways.

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Montage Palmetto Bluff
Two awesome tree houses on the property
Montage Palmetto Bluff Bowling Alley
The state of the art bowling alley at Montage

We were treated to a tour of the lowlands of South Carolina. (I always recommend to clients to get out on the water if you have the chance. It changes your perspective of your vacation destination.) Our guide, who is also the fishing guide, entertained us with tales from a neighboring island where a landowner had placed buffalo so he could hunt. The problem was, he didn’t realize buffalo could swim and they escaped. Unfortunately for the buffalo, they escaped to a hunting lodge and as a result, one of the buffalo heads can be found inside the restaurant on the property, appropriately named, “Buffalo’s.”

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Sampling a local dish at Culinary Heirlooms

img_3330Other highlights include, the island for awesome family days, the homemade hot sauce at Cole’s, the food (delicious), Culinary Heirlooms (local cuisine featured every night at 5 pm for guests to sample), the luxurious and beautifully appointed spa (best facial I’ve ever had), and the s’mores cart. The inn offers fires and s’mores every night with a cart full of homemade marshmallows in different flavors (we were told to try the lemon marshmallow with the dark chocolate) and two different kinds of chocolate. It’s like you died and went to s’mores heaven! “Porching” occurs every day from 3:30 to 5:30pm at the River House where cookies, sweet tea, and lemonade are served and guests can hang out and enjoy the view of the river from their porch rocker. We didn’t have the good fortune to attend this event, but if it is anything like the shortbread cookies we experienced in our room every night, we’re absolutely certain we will not miss it next time.

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The s’more’s cart–chocolate and homemade marshmallows!

img_3270Montage Palmetto Bluff is a haven for families and couples looking to escape from it all and experience the outdoors. It’s just good old fashioned fun. There is no “I” left undotted, no “T” left uncrossed here. They go out of their way and the attention to detail is unfounded. A little boy I met put it perfectly when I asked him what his favorite thing was he had done there on vacation, “I get to shoot a bow and arrow.” He hadn’t even done it yet, but it was his favorite thing. Montage Palmetto Bluff is just that—it’s your favorite thing to do, even though you haven’t done it yet.

Getting there: Fly into Savannah, Georgia (airport code SAV). Transportation to the resort can be arranged or you can rent a car and drive. It’s about 30 minutes.

Guests of the resort who are the Art of Travel clients receive a room upgrade (subject to availability), a $60 dollar daily breakfast credit per room, and a $100 spa credit per stay.

Visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

I am a little uptight. I can admit that.  So when planning our family trip to Iceland recently, the thought of visiting a European/Scandinavian Spa and the famous Blue Lagoon was not high on my list of “must sees”.

We always try to find an authentic local experience when we travel, and utilizing their favorite swimming destination seemed like a great idea to get to know the locals a little. Then I saw the images online and read several descriptions about the beauty, the serenity and the unique experience the Blue Lagoon provides.  I read about the swim up bar and medicinal qualities of the water and I was little more intrigued.  The silica and other minerals are known to have healing properties for a variety of ailments, and I began to consider trying to get over some of my many hangups.   I realized that it is also one of the top visited destinations in Iceland, so I decided to try to let go of my Puritanical mindset, and when in Iceland, do as Icelanders ( and a whole lot of tourists) do.

Iceland is known for their love of all things aquatic. Heated outdoor pools are open year round for fun, relaxation and recreation. There are several naturally heated lagoons also popular and available year round. Their most famous pool, The Blue Lagoon, is not a recreational facility, but a man made, naturally heated geothermal pool, open all year for rest, rejuvenation and relaxation. It is one of the most popular attractions in Southern Iceland, and very convenient to Keflavík Airport.

If you ask my children, the Blue Lagoon was their favorite experience in Iceland.  My four year old asks weekly when we will be returning, so she can visit “the moon pool”. It was so much more than what I had envisioned: it was fun, relaxing, tranquil, beautiful, soothing, and one of the most unique experiences we have had as a family. If you are anything like me, and the thought of stranger’s sneaking a peak of you in your birthday suit doesn’t appeal, here is a list of things you should know before booking your entry to this tranquil Spa.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland1. Your entry must be booked in advance.  

Tickets are sold for entry on the hour, but you can stay as long as you like.  There are no walk in entry tickets. There are several types of pre-booked tickets to choose from, and add ons for spa treatments, meals, beverages, and even a private dressing room.  I would recommend at least booking the algae mask, mud mask and one drink with entry.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

2.  Children are free and under 2 are not allowed in the water.  Children 8 and under must wear arm flotation devices, provided for you. The water temperature is just about 95 degrees Fahrenheit; so children must be monitored and kept hydrated.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

3. Bathing suits are NOT optional. No need to worry about uneven tan lines in Iceland.

4. A secure locker is provided with your entry ticket. Upon entry, you will receive a bracelet (think Disney World) that locks and unlocks your locker, and is scanned each time you make a purchase. Your bill is tallied, upon exiting.

5. You must shower naked prior to entry in the Lagoon.  There are no chemicals in the water of the lagoon, and all patrons must cleanse thoroughly prior to entry.  There are attendants monitoring the shower room. The water in the lagoon is constantly moving and renews itself every 48 hours.

6. There are doors on most of the showers and private changing rooms in the main locker room, providing privacy for those who are not into flashing a little skin.  I read several times in various descriptions patrons are subjected to a gang shower and open changing areas.  I found that to be completely untrue, much to my relief (and my teenage daughter’s relief).  Of course, most patrons have no problem just showering with the door open and walking around in the nude, so be prepared for an eyeful. If you are not into the camaraderie of a locker room, a ticket that provides access to a private dressing room is available.

7. This is a world renowned spa: Don’t hesitate to make this the experience of your dreams. Celebrities such as Beyoncé have been known to visit the spa…peruse the treatment menu, sample their exclusive skincare products, consider an in-water massage.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

8. Don’t rush it: be sure and visit the restaurant, the observation decks, and the steam rooms. We took the opportunity to make this our first destination. Most International flights arrive and depart at the same time, and most patrons will make this a stop just prior to return flights in the afternoon/early evening, as the Lagoon is near the airport, and at least 30 minutes from Reykjavik. We arrived just as they were opening, and we witnessed a gorgeous sunrise and small crowds. We were able to relax, use the lounge chairs and booked a table in the restaurant.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

9. Don’t be a tourist and pay 4.00 for a bottle of water. Iceland is known to have the cleanest water in the world, running through its plumbing. There is a faucet just to the right of the first floor snack bar, with cups provided. There are also spigots under the bridges in the lagoon for drinking and rinsing.

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

10. Towels (and bathrobes, if you buy the splurge entry) are provided, and if you forget your suit, a bathing suit can even be rented. All towels are identical; however we brought our children their own, so they were easily identified. If you have the suitcase room and don’t like the thought of sharing, consider bringing your own.

Getting There:  Fly direct into Keflavik Airport from over 80 destinations in Europe in North America.

 

Curacao—The Urban Chic Gem of the Caribbean

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I really didn’t know what to expect when we docked in Curacao. During my days at Islands and Caribbean Travel and Life Magazines, it wasn’t an island we covered frequently. The only thing I had heard was it was “colorful” and “not like any of the other islands in the Caribbean.” (We docked there on our recent ten day cruise on the Norwegian Jade.)

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Docking in Curacao on the Norwegian Jade

The dock itself is charming. I loved the inviting little white tents with “Welcome to Curacao”. And, in the background was something I’d never seen in the Caribbean—a modern bridge towering over the skyline of the island. The Queen Juliana Bridge is a focal point of the skyline. It’s one of the tallest bridges in the world, weighing 3,400 tons and is 185 feet above sea level over Santa Ana Bay. Traveling over the bridge is a little harrowing when the wind is blowing, but the views are spectacular.

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View of the Queen Juliana Bridge with the Swinging Bridge below

The only way to describe Curacao is Caribbean, urban chic. It has the vibe of the Caribbean with all the vibrant, gorgeous colors; yet Willemstad with the view of the Queen’s Bridge overhead, gives it an urban chic kind of feel. With outdoor cafes, shops, and restaurants, it has the bustle of a city with the laid back vibe of the Caribbean.

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Colorful Curacao

Oddly enough, Curacao is home to another unique bridge in the Caribbean—the Queen Emma Bridge. Also known as, “The Swinging Old Lady,” this floating, swinging bridge connects two parts of historic Willemstad—the Punda and the Ortobanda districts. Sixteen floating pontoon boats support the bridge and two motors allow it to swing open to let ships enter the port. It truly is one of the most unique bridges in the world and certainly the Caribbean.

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The Swinging Bridge in Curacao

Things to Do In Curacao

  • Visit the Curacao Distillery Home to the world famous Blue Curacao liqueur and housed in the historic 19th century mansion Landhuis Chobolobo .
  • Take a local driving tour—Ben Tours offers a luxury motor coach tour and includes ice-cold beer, water and wifi. The tour takes you to the distillery and two scenic overlook spots before dropping you back at the dock or you have an option to get off in town and explore. It’s a great overview of the island.
  • Explore the Punda area of Willemstad for shopping, outdoor cafes and local eats. Afterwards make your way to the Netto Bar, the oldest in Curacao (and one of the oldest in the Caribbean) for their famous Rom Berde (green rum).

Where to Stay in Curacao

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Luxury awaits at the gorgeous Baoase Resort in Curacao

The gorgeous Baoase Luxury Resort is the perfect place for a romantic escape.  Located on the south side of Curacao, the resort offers 23 rooms, suites and villas to restore your well-being.  The resort also has a spa for wellness seekers and offers yoga and detox programs. With beaches, golf, hiking and exceptional diving, Curacao is the perfect place to wander, relax and unwind.

The 8 Most Amazing Natural Sights in Southern Iceland

Iceland has quickly become one of the HOTTEST travel destinations, and it comes as no surprise to those who’ve been. This country is a natural wonderland, full of history, folklore, Vikings and trolls; yes, trolls.  With so much to see and do, one thing you simply MUST NOT do, is stay within the Reykjavik city center.  Whether this is a stopover for 24 hours, or Iceland is your only destination, rent a car, book a bus tour, or hire a private guide and get out and enjoy the incredible natural beauty you will find no where else in the world.

8. MÝRDALSJÖKULL GLACIER

This is Iceland’s fourth largest ice glacier, with its highest peak around 4500 feet. What is most fascinating and frightening, is it sits atop an active volcano that is past due to erupt. Katla, has erupted in routine intervals, totaling 20 times since 900 A.D. and has been quietly brewing since 1918. Occasionally, closures to the glacier occur if movement underground is detected. But for now, visitors enjoy snowmobiling, hiking, or exploring the caves underneath, as well as aerial touring.

 

myrdalsjokull Ice Glacier iceland
Myrdalsjokull Ice Glacier

7. RAUFARHOLSHELLIR LAVA TUNNEL

Head underground and experience a 5200 year old tunnel created by an eruption in the Leitahraun Lava Fields, located in the mountains of the Reykjanes Peninsula.  Guided tours take visitors deep into this fascinating  cave, adorned with colorful rocks, stalagmites, stalactites, and ice sculptures. Be prepared when the guide cuts the lights to give visitors a glimpse into what pure darkness is–trust me, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Entrance to the Lava Tunnel, Iceland
Entrance to the Lava Tunnel
The Lava Tunnel, Iceland
The Ceiling caved in, allowing natural light to the entrance of the cave.
Inside the Lava Tunnel Iceland
Stalactite and stalagmite formations
Inside the Lava Tunnel Iceland
Deeper into the cave.

6. GUNNUHVER HOT SPRINGS

Gunnuvher is the largest of Iceland’s natural geothermal mud pools, created by hot gas underground, that comes out of fissures in the earth’s tectonic plates. The legend of this incredibly powerful (and dangerously hot) geothermal geyser, involves a witchy woman, a priest, and a ball of string. I do believe there may be a joke in there, but there’s nothing funny about standing on the viewing platform and watching the smoke billow from underground as the earth boils around you.  Stay on the path in this area as you take in the beautiful colors surrounding the platform, created by mineral deposits in the earth.

Gunnuhver Hot Spring Iceland
Notice the Original Footbridge next to the Geyser…did I mention the temperature can reach upwards of 550 degrees F?

5.  REYKJANESTA ,VALAHNJUKUR,AND REYKJANESVITI

Reykjanesta is Reykjanes Peninsula’s southwestern most point.  It is characterized by Reykjanesviti (lighthouse), the Valahnjukur cliffs, sea stacks, and a statue of The Great Auk.  The largest of the sea stacks is thought to be a night-troll named Karl, who turned to rock after being caught by daylight.  Listen as the waves crash violently against the rocks, watch the sea foam and resident flocks of Arctic Tern, fly simultaneously, and try not to get blown away by the hurricane force winds.  If you aren’t afraid of heights and wind, there is a path to get a closer view of the coastline and Eldey Island on a clear day.

Reykjanesbær Iceland
Karl, the Troll at Reykjanesbaer

 

The Great Auk
The Great Auk with Reykjanesviti in the background

4. REYNISFJARA BEACH

Located in the small town of Vik, this black sand beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Reynisdrangar is the name of the basalt stack formations in the waters.  According to local folklore, they are thought to be night-trolls, turned to rock in the daylight, while trying to pull ships from the sea.  Explore the caves, enjoy the waves crashing on shore or look for Puffins.  If you are visiting during Spring or Summer months, do not underestimate the power of the ocean.  It is not uncommon for unsuspecting tourists to be swept out to sea and is recommended never to turn your back on the waves here.

IcelandBlack sand Beaches of Vik

3. SELTUN GEOTHERMAL AREA

Seltun is part of a large Geothermal field, known as Krysuvik. There are several wooden bridges and paths that take you through the bubbling, steaming mud pools.  You are surrounded by yellow, red and green hues, created by the reaction of the high mineral content in the soil and the sulfur underground. Several craters have occurred due to the explosion of overheated underground water.  Graenavatn is an incredibly beautiful bluish-green lake, created from one such explosion.  While beautiful to look at, driving around it is an adventure;  there are no guardrails to prevent you from being blown into the lake should a strong Icelandic gust of wind happen along.

Sultan Geothermal Area Iceland
The water was approximately 100 degrees F.
Graenavatn Lake
I took this photo from the car window and did not Zoom in…the road really is that close.

2. SELJALENSFOSS WATERFALL

Too dangerous for winter hiking, but those who dare can hike behind the falls for a spectacular view in summer. Local legend tells the story of a famous Viking hiding a chest of treasure behind the falls. No one has ever unearthed the chest, but supposedly someone did manage to reach it and rip a handle off. It was donated to a local church and is now on display in the Skokar Museum.  This spectacular 200 foot waterfall is supplied by the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier, which sits atop a very active volcano that last erupted in 2010.  There are several other smaller falls, all within walking distance of Seljalensfoss, which should also be explored, if time allows.  Come hungry and be sure to fill up on hearty meat (sheep) stew from the little commissary on sight.  For 15.00 USD, it’s a bargain at standard Icelandic prices!

Iceland

Sheep Stew Iceland
Sheep stew–yummy

1. SKÓGAFOSS WATERFALL

These majestic falls have a vertical drop of 200 feet and an opening 82 feet wide. This is 35 feet higher than Niagara Falls.  Whether you remain on the ground and view from the base, or you venture the 370 steps to view from the top, it’s impossible not to be awed by its power and beauty.  As millions of gallons of water spray over the falls daily, it is also very common to experience a rainbow or double rainbow as you view it; as if it wasn’t beautiful enough on its own.

Skógafoss Iceland
Rainbow and Skógafoss
Skogafoss Iceland
370 steps to the top and 370 steps back.

Cong, Ireland–Falconry, Castles and the Hungry Monk

Ireland is a magical place full of stunning scenery, historic ruins and amazing people. Dublin is a great city, but if you’re the adventurous type, I encourage you to get out into the scenic countryside and explore some of the quaint villages. I promise you, it’s worth it.

Ashford Castle, Cong Ireland
A view of Ashford Castle from Lough Corrib

My husband and I traveled to the Village of Cong, County of Mayo, located in Northwest Ireland. It’s peak season in July, and while prices are at their highest, this time of year has its advantages, as the sun rises around 5:00 am and doesn’t set until 10:00 pm, allowing you to really maximize the day. We stayed at the historic Ashford Castle, former home and estate of the Guiness family—a definite splurge but worth paying for. The 350 acre estate is also home to  Ireland’s School of Falconry, an experience so unique, we left wanting to get our own back home.

Ashford Castle Hawk Walk, Ireland's School of Falconry, Things to do in Cong Ireland
The best experience ever!

We started our “Hawk Walk” in the morning and were the first people of the day. Edward, our instructor, gave us a tour of the grounds along with an introduction to falconry.  He explained how unlike other birds of prey, the Harris’s Hawk is not loyal to one person; therefore, it is the best to use for multiple handlers.

The experience was unlike anything we’ve ever done—a true bucket list type moment. The walk lasted an hour with us starting out in a park like setting before heading out into the thick of the woods, making it more challenging for the hawks. From the looks of them, you’d think it would be hard to hold up your arm and carry them around, but in reality, they truly are, “light as a feather.” Watching them maneuver through the trees without so much as grazing a branch or a leaf, is mind blowing.  When you call them in, and they come flying towards you at top speed, you can’t help but brace yourself at first, thinking they’ll latch onto the glove, but they simply land gracefully and quietly. Once the hawks were full, we headed back to return our hawks and head into the village for the day. (The walk is is how they feed them. A hawks life expectancy in the wild is about four years, but in captivity it’s approximately twelve.)

The Village of Cong, is very quaint with amazing historic ruins to walk through. There is no cost to tour the ruins; you simply wander at your leisure. It’s also the film location for an Oscar-winning, old movie classic, “A Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. There is actually a statue of them in town and you can also tour the Quiet Man’s Museum which has an exact replica of the White O’Morn Cottage featured in the film.

The best place to eat hands down is the Hungry Monk. My lunch was simple–smoked salmon with salad and a piece of Irish brown bread. And, if you are into dessert, this is definitely the place to calorie splurge; it’s worth every single bite!

Restaurants in Cong Ireland, the Hungry Monk
My simple and delicious meal at the Hungry Monk!

Getting there: Cong is located approximately an hour and thirty minutes north of the Shannon Airport via the M-18.

New York City Three Ways: Two Great Family Museums and Ice Skating

Trip Three: 24 Hours in NYC Family Itinerary
American Museum of Natural History, Ice Skating in Rockefeller Plaza, Tenement Museum

In the third and final installment of our series, “24 Hours in New York City Three Ways”, we’ll cover an itinerary for families visiting two popular museums and ice skating in the iconic Rockefeller Plaza–a bucket list item for many (read, Couple’s Getaway and Food Tour, Top of the Rock and Broadway).  Sarah traveled with her husband and three children–ages 13, 11 and 3–during one of the busiest times of the year.  This is why, at the Art Travel Company, we drink wine.   

11:00 am. Arrival Millennium Hilton New York. We decided to drive in, given the difficulty of traveling with overnight bags and maneuvering through the train station with children in tow.   Walking even a few blocks in January in frigid temps may ruin the entire trip, so we parked in our hotel for convenience sake. If you have ski racks on your SUV, take them off!

11:30 am Walked to Grand Central to pick up the Metro.

*Credit machines were down and it was cash only! Children under 42 inches are free on the metro; just pick them up and walk them through the turnstile with you.

*If at all possible, do not bring a stroller on public transportation. It is so difficult to maneuver. If you must, then you must. We have found it is much easier to carry or wear toddlers. We have always had positive experiences on the metro with children and fellow patrons. Someone always offers a seat, we get smiles, and a general warm welcome in NYC. When we have had a need to bring a stroller, others have gone out of their way to direct us to the appropriate entrances, helped carry it up the stairs, or pointed us in the direction of the elevator.

12:00 pm.  Arrival to The American Museum of Natural History., Central Park West and 79th St.

Though it is not the largest museum in the world, AMNH offers visitors about 2 million square feet to explore. Originated in 1767, the museum is now a complex of multiple buildings and exhibit space that allows patrons to study fossils, anthropology, dinosaurs, space, and the human body, plus more; all in one day.  Check for free entry if you have a membership to a participating Science Museum.

*Download the Explorer AMNH app and use the map to follow the Night At the Museum scavenger hunt. My kids couldn’t wait to rewatch the Ben Stiller movie after using the app.

3:30 pm  Walk to Amsterdam Avenue to find numerous restaurants (and shops) of all kinds.  My kids love asian food, and we chose Spice. Turned out to be a great choice, with homemade dumplings and spring rolls included in the cost of a lunch entree. It was also Happy Hour, lucky for us.

4:30 pm.  A stop at Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop, 285 Amsterdam Ave, for rich, house made hot chocolates with real home made whipped cream–stir it to perfection with their signature chocolate spoon. There are several Jacques Torres Chocolate stores throughout the city, including Grand Central and Rockefeller Center. There is also a tour of their chocolate factory that offers samples of his famous confection at 350 Hudson St.

5:00 pm. Back to the metro to check in with the hotel. Double bonus! We were upgraded to the top floor, two bed, to bath suite with spectacular views of the skyline. It is so hard to travel any other way after that. (A perk of the American Express Hilton Honors card, guarantees you Gold Status and upgrades if available. It’s also very generous on points purchased at Hilton hotels and offers points on many other categories as well.  If you’re a Hilton fan and a frequent traveler, the card is worth it, as you can use your points at all Hilton properties throughout the world for free nights. ) 

6:15 pmRockefeller Center Ice Skating under the lights of the holiday decorations and the lights and music of Saks Fifth Avenue.

*There are two ways to purchase tickets to the rink: VIP and General Admission.  VIP entrance is through the doors of 30 Rockefeller Center.  General Admission is down the stairs, in between the Lego store and the skating rink.  GA is first come, first serve.  VIP gives you a timed ticket, a heated area to warm up with hot chocolate and snacks. Each session is one hour and thirty minutes with a 30 minute intermission to clean up the ice. Be sure to check the online schedule.

* Children under 4 are free to skate and there is no age restrictions to entering the rink; all skate rentals must be paid, regardless of age, however.

8:00 pm. Uber back to Hotel.

11:00 am Walk to Grand Central to catch the Metro downtown.

12:00 pm arrival on Spring Street Lower East Side.

12:15 pm.  Walked to Russ and Daughters original shop on East Houston St, for Bagels, house made cream cheese and pastrami smoked salmon.

12:45 pm. Walked to Tenement Museum on Orchard Street

This museum is an actual tenement building built in 1866 and left untouched and condemned until the 1980’s when it was purchased and someone had a vision to turn it into a museum.   Dedicated to the many immigrants who populated the lower East side at the turn of the century, all tours are guided and they also offer walking tours of the neighborhood.  *What really is special about this particular museum, is the tours are hosted by actors, playing the role of a person who really lived in this building.  It is something quite special and really brings history to life, especially for children.

2:00 pm. Dumplings and hand pulled noodles at Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles in Chinatown. A tiny restaurant with a bright yellow sign.  There are only 8 or so tables upstairs, and another 4 in their basement.  * Cash only.

3:00 pm Back on the Metro to Grand Central.

3:30 pm Stop in to Starbucks outside the Grand Central Terminal and Maison Kayser for hot drinks and raspberry tarts. According to Dan, my tour guide on my Food Tour, there are over 400 Starbucks in NYC. If you miss this one, you are sure to stumble on another around the next corner.

4:00 pm.  Collected our luggage and car from hotel for the drive home.

 

 

 

New York City Three Ways: Food Tour, Top of the Rock and Broadway Show

Trip Two:  24 Hours in NYC
Food Tour, Top of the Rock, and Broadway Show

In part two of our series on 24 hours in New York City Three Ways (read, Couple’s Getaway, our first in the series), we’ll cover a popular itinerary which includes a Broadway Show, a local food tour and a trip to the Top of the Rock. 

My brother and I travel a few times a year to the city for lunch and a Broadway Show.  We decided to spend the night and experience the city from the tourist point of view, taking in as many of the sights as we could in a 24 hour period.

11:00 am arrival to Grand Central via Metro North.  Five block walk to our hotel,  Millenium Hilton New York, One UN Plaza

12:00 pm Walked back to Grand Central to pick up the Metro. Grand Central to Bleeker St on the Green Line.   We were meeting up with a pre-scheduled food tour.  The tour was free (you tip what you feel is fair) and pay for the items you choose to taste.  A few of the locations were walk by only, but once the tour is over, if you want to return to any location, you are free to do so.

12:30 pm Arrival in East Village.

The Lower East Side was predominantly the Jewish section of New York during the late 19th and early 20th Century. It’s commonly known to house the city’s most recent influx of immigrants. And, while there are still plenty of Jewish owned delicatessens and synagogues, there are also Halal grocery stores, Indian delis, and Latin American restaurants.

 

12:40 pm. We were starving and early for our tour, so we decided to begin our tasting.  We had a cherry Blintze, a potato and spinach knish and an Eggcream at Yonah Shimmel’s Knishery. This little Lower East Side business has been selling Knishes since 1890.  There are a few small tables and a counter for to-go purchases.  *If you choose to sit in the restaurant to eat, the cost of the menu items increase, which they refer to as a “table tax”.  If you aren’t familiar with these types of Jewish and New York cuisines, I have included a link: Blintzes, Knishes  and Eggcreams.

1:00 pm. Tours by the Foot Food Tour of Lower East Side.  Dan was our tour guide.  He described himself as a local, who grew up on the Lower East Side.  He gave us some great insight on growing up in NYC, the changing socio-economic landscape of the Lower East Side, and the current gentrification of the area.

This is a list of the restaurants we stopped by.  I have also marked which ones a tasting was available for.

 

Yonah Shimmel’s Knishery, East Houston Ave  *potato knish

Russ and Daughter’s Appetizers, 179 E Houston St (they also have a location on Orchard St)

Katz’s Deli 205 E Houston St

Punjabi Grocery and Deli  114 E 1st St  *Vegetarian Samosa

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery  123 Rivington  *Free to enter the shop and buy on your own. * Known for their cupcakes and pudding shots

Economy Candy  108 Rivington St   *Free to enter the shop and buy on your own

Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys 367 Grand St  Have you ever heard of a Bialy?  *Free to enter the shop and buy on your own

Doughnut Plant  379 Grand St       *Free to enter the shop and buy on your own

The Pickle Guys  357 Grand St      *Free to enter the shop and buy on your own

North Dumpling  27a  Essex St     *Vegetarian and/or pork dumplings

3:00 pm.  Metro Station to the Brooklyn Highline. Delancey St Station to the Orange line, transfer at West 4 St, Washington Square to the Blue line, off at 14th St/8th Ave. Enter the Highline at Gansevoort St Entrance.

The Highline is a 1.45 mile linear park, that follows an old railroad line, high above Brooklyn. It is a beautiful way to take in the city, and feel a little like a local. There are several ways to exit, several restaurants along the way, art exhibits and gardens to enjoy (in season). If you walk the length of the park, you will find yourself at 34th and 11th Avenue, Uber/taxi back to Midtown, or find 34th St/Hudson Station and head Uptown on the Purple 7 to Grand Central.

5:00 pm   Metro to Grand Central to check in to our hotel.  We hit the jackpot of Hilton upgrades–a two bedroom, two bath suite with amazing views of the NYC skyline, all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge!

6:00 pm. Walk to Rockefeller Center, between 48th and 51st Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues, for the Top of the Rock Tour.  Even though we really did not want to leave our hotel room view, the VIP tour experience was so worth it.

*Tickets for Top of the Rock can be purchased online or in person. Children under 6 are free.  Be aware tickets are timed and may not be available when you arrive.  I would recommend buying in advance for your specific time frame, or buying VIP. We bought advance VIP tickets online and they were completely worth it. When purchasing tickets online, you can choose a ticket that allows both a daytime tour and an evening tour. You do not have to stick to a time. You show up on the day, when you are ready. When we arrived, they immediately advanced us to the front of the line (still have to go through the metal detectors and bag checks) and whisked us up the elevators to the Top!  We were the envy of everyone waiting, and it was a long line!

If you have been to the Empire State Building, in my opinion, this was a much more enjoyable tour. Rockefeller is not as tall, but the views are just as spectacular and the scenery is unobstructed by wire. You get a view of the Empire State Building as well.

*When entering the viewing platform, go left around the corner, and look left for a small staircase.  There is another level and viewing platform most don’t realize is there.  Take the staircase and take in the views, uninterrupted by crowds and selfie sticks.

 

7:45 pm. Walk to Broadway for our 8:00 pm Broadway Show at the Cort Theater, 138 W 48th St.

It never gets old for me walking through New York City’s Theater District. I get giddy seeing all the lights and patrons, long lines of guests waiting to enter, and hope for the possibility of a celebrity sighting or two (it has happened more than once!) No two theaters are alike, and I truly enjoy the experience of seeing the heavy red velvet curtains, the ornate, dimly lit theatre boxes, the Playbills, the concessions bar, the rich gold leafed ceiling medallions and winding staircases. Each performance is a new experience, as that is the draw of live theater.

*If you haven’t planned for a show, or are not picky about what you would like to see, visit the TKTS Booth in Times Square. Tickets are available at a discount (up to 50% off) the morning of the evening show and matinee tickets are available the day before.  You can also download the TKTS app on your phone and decide if there is something you are interested in seeing prior to making the trip to Times Square, and then waiting in a potentially long line.

*Tickets can be purchased in advance through Ticketmaster.com, Telecharge.com or Broadway.com.  You can also push your luck and show up at the theater to see if tickets are available the day of the show.  I subscribe to theatermania.com and receive discounts for upcoming shows.

10:00 pmYama Ramen, 60 W 48th St (very close to Rockefeller Center)  to discuss the show and indulge in incredible soup and shumai.

11:00 pm post dinner drink at the Pig and Whistle, 58 W 48th St (downstairs from Yama Ramen)

Next Day 10:00 am. Walk back to Rockefeller Plaza to visit Blue Bottle for the most expensive coffee EVER!   My brother listened to a podcast that referred to a coffee bean selling for $200.00 a pound, and a cup of coffee was available at Blue Bottle for $16.00 a cup. It was a bust; the coffee was sold out and no longer available, but we visited the street artists and sipped on $5.00 coffee instead. Had I done a little more research, I could have taken him to Brooklyn to Extraction Lab Cafe, on 51 35th Street. They apparently give you the ultimate coffee experience for only $18.00.

New York City Three Ways: Couples Getaway

Visiting New York City can be a bit overwhelming; especially if it is a short visit or your first time. There is so much to see and experience, it can be difficult to decide on an itinerary and how to determine what is possible to accomplish in a 24 hour period. I had the opportunity recently to visit the city on 3 separate occasions with 3 different companions: my husband, my brother, and my husband and children; ages thirteen, eleven, and three. Each visit was customized to fit the audience.  In the first of our blog series on New York City Three Ways, I have provided our “Couples Getaway” Itinerary and how we accomplished our experience.

Trip One:  Couples Getaway

I had the opportunity to get away without the kids for the night with my husband.  We won a pair of tickets to a celebrity chef dinner experience through my credit card company. As soon as we secured an overnight sitter, we made our plans for a date night in the Big Apple.

2:00 pmArrived via Metro North to Grand Central Terminal.  We are so fortunate to be a train ride away from NYC.  The cost of two round trip train tickets is about the cost of overnight parking an SUV in a New York parking garage.

The Art of Travel Company NYC Couples Getaway
No kids!! Waiting for Metro North at the New Haven train station

Just arriving in the iconic station is exciting, it really is so grand a station.  Many tourists and photographers spend some time here, just photographing the beauty and hustle and bustle of it all.  Thanks to our former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grand Central exists today after almost being torn down in 1968.  She partnered with the Municipal Art Society to create the Committee to Save Grand Central Station and as a result, this amazing architectural building, which celebrated it’s 100th anniversary in 2013, still exists today.

2:05 pm.  Head down the corridor to the entrance of the Metro station. 

*Always have cash on hand to purchase a metrocard.  Often times, the credit machines are down, and cash is the only way to pay.

*There are no locker and bag check facilities in Grand Central or Penn Station.  Most hotels offer bag services so you can explore the city without luggage in tow, but plan accordingly.  We packed for our trip with just one backpack.

2:25 pmFraunces Tavern  54 Pearl St. Green Line to Bowling Green Station.   This restaurant and tavern is considered the oldest tavern in NYC. Originally built in 1762, General George Washington gave his farewell speech to his men here, in 1783, following the Revolutionary War.   It was actually used for a time by the Continental Congress until Washington DC became the official capital of the US.  The restaurant offers some unusual but delicious dishes, including Scotch Eggs and Chicken Pot Pie. If you are not interested in lunch, definitely order a round of drinks in the authentic, early American saloon.  The bartenders are not necessarily the friendliest you’ll find, but certainly know how to make a fantastic Manhattan or Old Fashioned.   If you have the time, tour the Fraunces Tavern Museum.    If the whiskey bar is open and you imbibe in such haberdashery, just sitting in this cozy, wood paneled lounge, in leather bound furniture, is worth the cost of a well drink.

*If time allows, you are within walking or a short metro/uber/taxi ride away from The Brooklyn Bridge : the #1 most visited attraction in NYC.  If you have never been (or even if you have), it is quite a magnificent sight. Head uptown on the metro from Bowling Green to Brooklyn Bridge City Station.  

3:50 pm.  Back to the Metro to travel uptown to our hotel.

We have been to Times Square several times and I am not into the pressure cooker atmosphere of the area.  Being accosted by costumed men and women for photos and then tip money is not my idea of fun, but we did walk through to reach our hotel for check in.  If you have never been, look for the Naked Cowboy, often found there, feel free to have your photos taken with Mickey Mouse, Toy Soldier, Elmo, Batman, etc. etc.  Take a few images of the iconic glowing screens and hordes of tourists from all over the globe. In warmer weather, you may find a market of sorts, with souvenirs and several food vendors.  We perused a few and did purchase three,  “I Love NY” tee shirts for the kids.

6:00 pm.  After check in and dressing for dinner,  we walked the short distance from New York Hilton Midtown, to The Knickerbocker Hotel : the location of our celebrity chef dining experience.

Before dinner, head to the St Cloud Rooftop at the Knick. The rooftop has a fairly large seating area, table service or a walk up bar. As the sun sets, it is lit with strung lights and the glow of the nearby skyscrapers.

** As I stated, we won tickets to a celebrity chef dinner, hosted by our credit card company. Here is an alternative plan, I experienced on a previous NYC overnight:

7:00 pm Eataly 200 5th Avenue. It is a 20 minute walk from The Knick to Eataly. You can walk, hail a cab, or take the Times Square/42nd Ave Metro on the Yellow line to 23rd Street. It is very close to the Metro.

Eataly is a bit hard to describe. It’s an incredible marketplace, filled with wines, cheeses, meats and bread; there are cooking demonstrations, counters to sit and enjoy a drink, an appetizer or a sample or two. There are several restaurants that are first come, first serve and some where reservations are highly recommended. It is a very busy, popular spot, so if you have your heart set on a particular restaurant to enjoy a leisurely meal, absolutely plan ahead. If you are the type to just go and experience this vibrant eatery, it will not disappoint. Take your time eating, drinking and shopping!

10:00 pm 10 minute walk to The Empire State Building 338-350 5th Avenue

The Empire State Building needs no introduction, and should be experienced at least once while in NYC. Tickets can be purchased to visit just the 86th floor observatory, up to the 102nd Observatory, or a VIP experience that allows the ticket holder to skip the line. There are quite a few queues, lots of waiting, and several elevator rides before you finally reach the top. I am a fan of VIP treatment, but did not find it necessary the night we visited (about 10 pm on a Saturday). We really did not have to wait in line; there was quite a bit of walking and weaving through the barriers, but we did not encounter crowds until we reached the 102nd floor.

Uber/Taxi/Metro to Hotel or, depending on when you decide to end your night

After Dinner Drinks at  The Stagecoach Tavern  An authentic- feeling Irish bar with Guiness on tap and shandies on the drink menu. I really wonder if the waitstaff is truly from “the old country”, or it is part of the atmosphere of the tavern to be surrounded by true Irish patrons, but either way, we enjoyed listening to the accents.

An Insider’s Look at the Exceptional Viking Sun Cruise Ship

For those of us that live stateside, you may have heard of Viking River Cruises, but what you may not know, is that Viking has now ventured into ocean cruising. At the Art of Travel Company, we were recently invited to Miami to tour one of their new ships, the Viking Sun, and what we experienced was a work of art, steeped in Nordic tradition, with the beauty and simplicity Scandinavian design is known for.

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The Atrium on the new Viking Sun

The ship itself is stunning. With tall, bright windows, and a neutral décor, when you board the ship, you enter the Viking Living Room. Featuring comfy couches and chairs, it makes you feel as though you’ve entered the home of a Scandinavian relative. Every detail was thought through—from the leather wrapped hand railings, to the incredible woodwork of the Winter Garden—each fine touch has a purpose. The carefully selected artwork lining the ships walls even has a story to tell. The art is numbered, and guests who download the app, can look up the description on that particular piece. Other unique attributes include the retractable roof in the Winter Garden and heated pool area, the Explorers’ Lounge complete with telescope for stargazing, and the infinity pool and spa. For the food adventurous, try Mamsen’s, a gourmet deli featuring true Norwegian cuisine, and the World Café with selections from around the world. There are two specialty restaurants on board, The Chef’s Table providing a multi-course tasting experience, and Manfredi’s specializing in the fine art of Italian cuisine. In the evening, head to Torshavn 1920’s style bistro providing a very intimate setting for entertainment. And for those of you on extended cruises, leave the heavy suitcase at home; the ship even has a self-service laundry on board at no additional cost. It automatically dispenses detergent and fabric softener so no need to bring your own. For a small class ship, the Viking Sun is packed full of features.

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The spa facility is very unique. As you enter the spa, a gorgeous modern, gas fireplace greets you. Surprisingly, the same fireplace overlooks the spa pool on the inside, creating a focal point and ambiance for peace and relaxation. The spa is also home to the snow grotto, where guests can experience chilling temperatures and actual snow, and then hop on over to the sauna just across the way. It’s beautifully and comfortably appointed and the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day at sea. Guests on the Viking Sun can use the spa facilities at no extra charge and spa treatments are extra.

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Viking Ocean Cruises has taken what they learned on the rivers and expertly applied it to ocean cruising. With sixty-two ships in their river fleet, and four ocean ships currently, they plan to have ten by 2022. As we stood at the infinity pool, overlooking the ocean, we couldn’t help but envy the passengers about to embark on their journey to Cuba, as the Viking Sun is truly in a class all by itself.

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The Viking Sun offers:

  • Year built 2017
  • Double occupancy only
  • No children under 18
  • Every stateroom has a veranda (270 sq ft minimum)
  • Only 930 passengers (for those who don’t find megaships appealing)
  • Small class ship
  • No casino
  • Two specialty restaurants on board, no upcharge fee
  • Beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch and dinner are complimentary and specialty coffees, teas and bottled water are included
    • Unlimited cocktails beverage package is available for a minimal charge
  • Includes one excursion per port per passenger
  • Complimentary Wifi
  • 24 Hour Room Service

Viking Sun offers extraordinary, carefully curated, cruising itineraries to the Caribbean, Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, The Adriatic, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Russia and the Baltic Sea. To book a cruise vacation on this beautiful ship, please Contact us.  For more information on the Viking Sun, visit https://www.vikingcruises.com/oceans/ships/viking-sun.html.

Why We Travel

Why We Travel

Sarah and I are cousins.  Our mutual grandmother (who was awesome by the way), never learned how to drive.  Her view of the world was through television or what was going on immediately around her.  Perhaps, this is the reason for our wanderlust or is it something genetic, something brought on by our curious natures and insatiable sense of adventure from our youth?  They say, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.  Sarah and I are lucky to be both and we’ve often talked about our mutual love of travel as one of the things that binds us.  This is why, for our first post on The Art of Travel Company Blog, we thought we’d answer the question that many people ask us. ”Why we travel?”

The Art of Company Travel Blog Why We Travel
Sarah and Paula enjoying a night out in Edinburgh Scotland

From Paula’s Perspective

I don’t know who wrote it, but I recently read a quote about adulthood that stuck with me, “I hereby resign from adulthood. Decisions will be made using the eenie-meeni-minie-moe method and arguments will be settled by sticking out my tongue. I’ll be at recess if you need me.”

We live in a society where we are inundated with information and pressed for time. When you travel, time is your own. You are not anywhere where you have obligations. The only thing you are obligated to do is to explore—act like a kid again. This is why I travel and what travel does. It frees you and exposes you to new experiences, people, and sites so beautiful you couldn’t even imagine they’re real (my husband refers to this “nature’s art”). From the moment you open your eyes, wherever you are, it’s your day to do what you want, when you want, ALL day long. I leave all my adult responsibilities—the vacuuming, laundry, paying bills, work stress–at home. Good-bye adulthood! The world is my oyster and the days are my own. Shall I sleep in today? Should I tour that museum? Can I have a cup cake for breakfast? There is no one to tell me what to do, no obligations (unless I decide), and it truly is the freedom to explore and regain the sense of adventure I once had as a kid.

The Art of Travel Company Blog Why We Travel
Paula and her husband during their Hawk Walk at the Ireland School of Falconry, Cong, Ireland

I travel because it gets me out of my comfort zone. It exposes me to new things I would not see otherwise and it breaks me free of the routine that binds me. In our everyday lives, we don’t get this luxury very often. It’s off to work or to bring the kids to school or an activity. In life, AKA “adulthood”, there will always be bills and responsibilities, but the last thing I want to do is look back on life and say, “I wish I had traveled to that white sand beach in the Caribbean or I wish I had gone to Italy to explore my roots. Life is short. Just because we are not kids anymore doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and feel that sense of adventure with no responsibility…and this my friends, is why I travel.

Sarah’s Point of View

Our friends and family think we are crazy.  There are times I agree.  We travel. We love it, most of the time.  We travel at a frenzied pace.  There are times I feel I am sprinting for that gold medal prize, trying desperately to see everything on my bucket list before our trip ends. My husband recently announced he had finally figured me out after all these years. He realized that I secretly love stress and the uncertainty of traveling with children. At first, I was angry, but I realize now it must be true.

The Art of Travel Company Blog Why We Travel
Taking a break on El Caminito del Rey ( The King’s Bridge), Ardales, Spain

I am not really sure why I feel this way. It may be that I can count on one hand the number of vacations I took with my family.  I am not begrudging my parents and the lifestyle choices they made, it is merely an observation that this lack of travel and experience may have fueled my constant need to see and do.   We also live busy lives, with three children, lots of activities and schedules to adhere to. Even on vacation, I continue to strive to stay on schedule and adhere to an itinerary.  I feel more comfortable when a plan has been established and I can tick the boxes as we move on in our plans.

The Art of Travel Company Blog Why We Travel
The face of a smiling teenager–Sarah and her daughter on vacation in Maine

I have felt guilty about the expectations I place on our children to bend and sway with our travel plans.   But recently,  I encountered  a very sullen teenager, while on visit in Washington DC. Our 13 year old was pouting because she felt I had not scheduled enough museum time and historical touring to suit her.  (Ahhh, a girl after my own heart.)  I know our travel plans are not for every family, and I completely understand the need to relax, unplug, and travel at a snail’s’ pace for rejuvenation—that is just not my family.  We travel hard, but in the evening, we gather around our rented living area and we talk about our favorite moments and relive our experience over a board game or deck of cards.  We laugh over the mishaps of the day, rehash the highlights, and discuss our plans excitedly for the next day.  We are building memories together as a family.  Our children’s experiences are my husband’s and my experiences as well.  We aren’t living vicariously through our children, we are living simultaneously…and this is why I travel.

Why do you travel? Send us your story and photos to why@theartoftravelcompany.com, We’d love to hear from you.