What Islands to Visit in Thailand

There are three islands off the southern coast of Thailand—Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Most people think of Thailand via Bangkok and scenes from the Hangover Movie, but these islands are far from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s an entirely different atmosphere filled with amazing restaurants, gorgeous beaches (many with few people), and a host of options for resorts. It’s an island vibe with a cross between Scandinavian design, marries Caribbean with a bit of Hawaiian Polynesian thrown in.

There are places you visit that change you forever and Thailand is one of those places. I have to admit I really didn’t know what to expect from my travels there and what I found was absolutely incredible—from the country, to the food and the culture—it really is worth the trip. Thailand is definitely a place that has a bit of everything to offer.

Koh Phangan

I really loved this little island and enjoyed our stay at the Anatara Rasananda Resort. You fly into Koh Samui and you’re transferred via the hotel high-speed boat to the resort (about a 40 minute ride). When you arrive, the staff is waiting on the beach to greet you. It’s a wonderful way to start your vacation.

The resort itself is a perfect blend of luxury and island nature. In the morning, you can grab a table for breakfast right on the beach and then meander up the hill to the spa situated amongst the boulders for a traditional Thai massage. They have beachfront accommodations or you can opt for being just off the beach with your own private plunge pool. Breakfast is included at the resort with fresh juices and infused waters each morning. There is also a cute little village within walking distance you can explore on your own and shop.

Koh Nang Yuan

Koh Nang Yuan National Park
A perfect snorkel spot!

Koh Nang Yuan is an island national park. It’s the perfect day trip and a great place for snorkeling in calm waters. You can also hike up to the highest point (not too strenuous of a hike) for some incredible views. Beach towels are not allowed on the sand as they impact the island’s natural habit, but they do offer chairs for rent and bathroom facilities. There is also food available for purchase. I highly recommend the coconut water, served fresh in the coconut—cool, refreshing and hydrating on a hot day.

Koh Tao

 

One thing I love about these islands is they are close enough, you can island hop. Each is maybe at best, an hour boat ride. We didn’t spend a ton of time on Koh Tao, but on our way back from the National Park, we stopped there for lunch right on the beach at Blue Water. The food was fresh and delicious and every time I think about the pad Thai and ginger tea with honey, my mouth starts watering and you certainly cannot beat the view!

Koh Samui

Kamalya Resort Thailand
The view at Kamalya

Koh Samui is the largest of the three islands and is home to the Samui International Airport offering flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong so big planes do land there. It’s also home to a variety of accommodations including Six Senses Hideaway Samui, known for sustainability, the more modern, Melati Beach Resort and Spa, and the luxurious Kamalaya, a wellness resort offering health and wellness programs including electronic detox, stress and burnout, and emotional balance to name a few.

 

This is an island that offers many options—yoga retreats like, Vikasa featuring Yoga classes and teaching certification, traditional Muay Thai boxing, beaches, nightlife and shopping. We dined at Coco Tam’s right on the beach and I highly recommend their signature dish. It’s worth every bite! It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.

Coco Tam's on the Beach
Coco Tam’s on the Beach

With the arrival of the New Year, our thoughts turn to shedding those few extra pounds, eating healthier, exercising and our next vacation. With exceptional health and wellness options allowing you to escape the craziness of life and leave your cell phone behind, Thailand has it all. From the mountains of Chiang Mai, to the urban city life of Bangkok and the slow, island pace of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, it’s a life-changing adventure with an amazing culinary scene. When I got back to the United States, I kept telling my husband I felt like all the food I was eating was dead compared to what I ate in Thailand, and I eat vegetables and fruit regularly. Everything was just so fresh, and the presentation alone was a photograph every time!

Celebrating Christmas In Scotland

Bag piping Buskers Holiday Serenade

Paula’s Perspective

Six years ago, my husband and I moved to Florida and left behind our family and friends along with all the Christmas obligations. What amazed me is how I never realized you cram all these visits, seeing everyone into just a day and half– Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While it can be fun, it can sometimes be exhausting.

Moving changes all that. Suddenly, there are no obligations and you have a chance to reinvent the holidays without offending anyone. Don’t get me wrong, you do miss your family and all the traditions surrounding the holidays, but it’s really exciting making new traditions.

I’ve personally always wanted to go away for Christmas—to actually wake up in a different country on Christmas morning, celebrating the holidays outside of the United States. Travel opens up your eyes to so many things, but seeing how a country celebrates Christmas is something we don’t often think of doing. And, since I started the whole Scotland thing with Sarah a few years ago, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather continue the adventure with!

Sarah’s Perspective

I first visited Edinburgh, Scotland in 2014 when Paula invited me as a plus one on an international business trip. She suggested a train ride from London to Edinburgh where we could explore the city for a long weekend. On the way to the Boston airport, my mother called and casually mentioned my great-grandmother was born in Scotland. She offered her date of birth and suggested I stop at a genealogical society to find out more information on her.  I was stunned as I have always considered myself Polish by heritage, but quickly took what little information she had, and stuck it in my purse. I forgot about it until we arrived in Edinburgh and walked right by Scotland’s People: a Genealogical Research Center, on the way to our hotel. This began my personal journey into my Scottish genealogy. Over the years, I spent time searching for information on a family history I didn’t know I had and developing an interest in a country that draws me in, like it’s calling me home.

Deciding to spend Christmas in Edinburgh with my family was appealing, although I had my reservations. Traveling during a major holiday can be stressful and I was concerned my children would be disappointed we weren’t following our traditional Christmas schedule. Edinburgh turned out to be a fantastic way to re-energize our family bond, discover new traditions and explore a fairy tale like landscape. Edinburgh Castle is always within the eye’s periphery when in Edinburgh and the gothic silhouette of the city is the perfect place to recapture what is magical about the holidays.

Carnival Rides Edinburgh Christmas Market
The ferris wheel all lit up for the holidays
Sarah and Rob Edinburgh Christmas Market
Strolling through the Edinburgh Christmas Market enjoying a wee dram of whiskey
Edinburgh Christmas Market Day View
A view of the market in daylight

Edinburgh has a large German style Christmas Market that begins weeks before and ends just after Christmas. We spent time exploring the vendor stalls, riding Carnival style rides, drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate made with real Bavarian melted chocolate.  We ate German sausage and Scottish meat pies, and enjoyed being serenaded by traditionally dressed bagpiping buskers.

Christmas Eve dinner was spent at The Witchery: a uniquely decorated medieval restaurant, rich in history and within the shadows of Edinburgh Castle, followed by a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, decorated with millions of twinkling lights. Ticket holders walk through the displays as Christmas music plays in the background, and Santa and his helpers are seen preparing for what will be a long night.

The Witchery Edinburgh
Outside The Witchery for our Christmas Eve Dinner
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
A scene from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh
Edinburgh's Royal Mile
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile decorated for the festive season

Christmas Day was spent lounging in front of our hotel provided personal Christmas tree (it was a complete surprise), opening gifts from the stockings I brought and hung in our lounge room. It was a mild, sunny day, and we hiked to both Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill: two popular and scenic over looks in Edinburgh.  Although most of the city was shut down: no public transport was available; the city was still alive with people, enjoying the beauty of The Royal Mile and other major landmarks that make Edinburgh so special. Tourist shops were open for business, as well as a wine shop and several takeaway restaurants.

Scottish Malt Whiskey Society
Entrance to the Scottish Malt Whisky Society thanks to the Eat Walk Food Tour
Makar's Mash Bar
Eat Walk Food Tour at Makar’s Mash Bar Stop–best mashed potatoes ever!
Scottish Malt Whiskey Society
Enjoying our whiskey after our Haggis tasting

My son and youngest daughter asked if this year we could celebrate the holiday with a few of the traditions we enjoyed in Scotland. I just bought a set of Christmas crackers and am researching where to buy a few Christmas Crowns.

Hiking Up to Arthur's Seat
A view on the way up to Arthur’s Seat
The View from Arthur's Seat
What a gorgeous view of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur’s Seat!
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Our first experience with Christmas Crackers!

These are a few of our Favorite Festive Things to do In Edinburgh:

Edinburgh Christmas Market

Royal Botanic Gardens

Eat Walk Food Tour

The Witchery

Mimi’s Bake Shop

Hiking Up to Arthur’s Seat

A Scotland Do It Yourself Pub Crawl

Traveling during the holidays can be a fun, enriching experience.  Scotland is a magical, soulful country that makes you believe in the magic of Christmas all over again.

Things to do on a Long Haul Flight

Canva - Silhouette of Airplane during Sunset
Photo by Pixabay

With the holidays fast approaching, many travelers will take to the skies for what is the busiest season for travel. So what do you do if your travels require you to take a long haul flight (seven hours or more)? How do you survive a plane ride that long? Take it from us professionals, in order to survive; you have to have a strategy.

Choose Your Seat Wisely
Before you even get on the plane, the seat assignment is key. We all wish we could afford business class or first, but when that isn’t in the budget, choosing your seat wisely will help ease the pain of sitting in it for a long time. Seat Guru is great for picking out the best seat by flight number and is our go to for seat selection, but we are big fans of the two-seat row. It’s not always available on every flight, but it’s ideal especially if you are traveling with a significant other. It’s an aisle and a window with no chance of having a stranger in the seat in between you, and makes for a more enjoyable flight when you can stretch out together. It’s about as luxurious an experience as you can get in economy class.

Wear Comfortable Clothing
This is an absolute must. We recommend layering here because we all know flights can be very cold at times.  And,  if you’re one of the unfortunate souls to be stuck in a center seat between two bodies, it can be very warm. The last thing you want is to be wearing something uncomfortable for hours on end.

Bring Plenty of Reading Material
Now is the time to catch up on that stack of catalogs you’ve been meaning to look through or those magazines you just haven’t had the time to read. You can pack them and if you don’t want to keep, you can discard before you get off the plane. Most airlines have entertainment on board, so there will be plenty of movies, TV shows, etc., to watch on your flight, but we recommend having a combination of things to do. It helps break up the flight–especially if it is 12 to 15 hours or more. Pick a book to download or buy one to carry—now is the time for a great story because not only will you have the flight there, but don’t forget about the flight back.

Organize Your Laptop
If you are bringing your laptop or even your iPad, take this time to organize all your files, delete things you don’t need anymore, etc. I once organized my entire laptop on a 5 hour non stop flight. It’s something we never make time for, but really needs to be done and provides a great sense of accomplishment when you do.

Carry On Your Bedtime Routine
When it’s time to go to bed, we all have our routine—wash our face, brush our teeth, put our pajamas on. Have a strategy for your “things to do time”, but when it’s time to get some shuteye, it’s important to follow your typical routine and make sure you pack those items in your carry and they’re easily accessible. If you decide to use a sleep aid, make sure you try it out at home first, especially if you’ve never used it before. The last thing you need is to be super knocked out or groggy when you finally get to your destination.

Make it a Spa Experience
Flying is very dehydrating to the skin and body, so you make sure you drink plenty of water on your flight. There are socks you can buy to moisturize your feet and you can purchase a travel mask featuring hydrating ingredients to leave you feeling refreshed and your skin looking amazing when you get off the plane. We used one on our long haul flight to Thailand. It’s a sheet mask you simply lay over your face (it has eye holes so you can see). Our flight attendants were so impressed they all kept coming over asking us about it. We used Hydrate by Peach and Lily and they have other ones as well.

When it comes to a long haul flight, the most important thing is to get creative and be comfortable. You can pack a deck of cards, write a good old-fashioned letter to a aging relative (they will really appreciate hearing from you), do a word search or channel your inner child and buy a new coloring book and crayons. There is no one to judge you. And, who cares really? What are the chances you’ll ever see these people again?

A Do It Your Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl

During our holiday trip to Scotland, Sarah and I were disappointed to learn our Edinburgh Pub Crawl was cancelled. It was one of the top things we were looking forward to, so we each took to the Internet to create our own list of traditional as well as interesting pubs in Edinburgh. What resulted was an eclectic mix of old and new and a super fun night out in Scotland!

Panda & Sons

The Art of Travel Company Edinburgh
The “Barbershop”

We started off the night at Panda & Sons. By day, this actually looks like a Barber Shop on the outside (we actually walked by during our food tour), but in reality is a secret craft cocktail bar modeled after the prohibition era speakeasy that requires prearrangement to get in. You even enter through a bookcase door! The cocktail list is extensive and they do offer light appetizers. It’s definitely a local place and worth a stop. Try the Birdcage Cocktail. It’s really quite the presentation.

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
Entering the speakeasy through the secret bookcase
Edinburgh Pub Crawl
The Birdcage Cocktail Presentation

52 Canoes

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
The bar selection
Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
Cheers to the Tiki!

Everyone who knows me, understands I am a big fan of the Tiki Bar and when I found out there was one in Edinburgh, I knew we just had to go. It’s quite the contrast in this medieval city and the minute you walk in, no matter how cold it is outside, the décor instantly warms you. Full of colorful lighting and totem poles, it transforms you to a tropical location. The drink menu does not disappoint and it was a great place to get one of our fave’s—the mojito. They have the best rum selection in the city and a full menu. You can tell by the smiles on our faces, it was a favorite amongst us all.

The Blue Blazer

Do It Yourself Pub Crawl Edinburgh
Cozying up to the fire

This is a very traditional Scottish Pub built in 1867. It’s a quiet, quaint, local place. The one thing it has going for it, (and the reason we stopped here) is because it is the one of the only pubs in Edinburgh that has a fireplace. We didn’t hang here long, but we managed to score a seat right in front of the fire. The drink prices were really reasonable as well.

The Tolbooth Tavern

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl

This was absolutely the perfect way to cap off the night! Rich in history, the Tolbooth is actually rumored to be one of the most haunted buildings in Edinburgh. It dates back to 1591 when the building was used to collect tolls from travelers entering the burgh.

We happened into the tavern during karaoke night and had a chance to hear some of the local singers. I even managed to get Sarah to drink some whiskey (which she said she’d never do). We danced, we drank whiskey and we laughed. It was a great night of making awesome memories with those you love.

Do It Yourself Edinburgh Pub Crawl
Proof that Sarah drank whiskey!
Do It Yourself Pub Crawl Edinburgh
Here’s to a pub crawl well done!

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.

Curacao—The Urban Chic Gem of the Caribbean

@theartoftravelcompany

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.)

@theartoftravelcompany
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.

@theartoftravelcompany
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.

@theartoftravelcompany
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.

@theartoftravelcompany
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

@theartoftravelcompany
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.

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: 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.