About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

At Five-Star Four Seasons Shanghai, Guests Are the Real Stars

by Brenda Fine

Any up-market hotel worth its array of stars realizes it can be only as good as its staff. Luxurious rooms fully loaded with the latest in high-tech toys, award-winning restaurants on-site, the best and latest perks —- all are vital to winning those stars, but all of which don’t mean much if the people working at the hotel fail to extend themselves to help create a perfect experience for each guest.

The Executive Lounge at the Four Seasons Shanghai (photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Shanghai)

And even if the staff is good, there are degrees of such excellence; that elusive plus that can make all the difference. So, it’s not just the welcome smile from the doorman that greets you, it’s the genuine welcome behind that smile that let’s you know that you’re really welcome.

Here’s my newest and best favorite example of that something extra: a concierge whose actions really drove home that point.

During a recent visit to China, my husband and I checked in to the Four Seasons Shanghai. It was around lunchtime, and we were hungry. We wanted to find a restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. Nothing fancy – just a neighborhood place where we could soak up some local culture while enjoying some authentic Shanghai dim sum.

The problem: we had arrived in town during the weeklong celebration of Chinese New Year, a time when many businesses traditionally close down so their employees can spend this important holiday with their families.

Helping us in our search, Peter, one of the Four Seasons concierge staff, spent some time on the phone, calling around to his local restaurant choices to determine which ones were open during the holiday. It took him a while, but he finally located one. He then carefully marked our route there on a map, pointing out some landmarks along the way to help us find the place. He also wrote down the name in English characters.

A few minutes later, as we were walking toward the restaurant, we heard Peter come dashing up behind us, panting, out of breath, and coatless in the chilly winds.

He had just learned that the restaurant was actually not open. But he had an alternate.

And so he began walking us there. “You’re going to freeze,” I protested. ‘Just give us directions and we’ll find it on our own.”

But he insisted. He walked along the several blocks with us to a bustling storefront crowded with people waiting for their take-home orders. He led us through this crowd to the escalator up to the 2nd floor restaurant, which was also mobbed with locals. Leaving us alone for a minute, he went off in search of an empty table, found one, and then made sure the waitress cleaned it properly before letting us sit down.

One of the Executive Suites at the Four Seasons Shanghai (photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Shanghai)

He then went over the menu with us (it was all in Chinese, with very few of the pictures that might have helped us use as guides had we been alone), placed our order with the waitress, and clued us in to the local rule that requires patrons to pay in full before their order can be placed. (We would never have figured that one out without him.)

It wasn’t until he was completely sure everything was in order — and on order — that he bowed, wished us a good meal, and left to return to his post at the hotel.

We encountered this sort of going-the-extra-step behavior (although none quite as dramatic as Peter’s full-court assistance) with almost all the staff we encountered. On another day I was amazed and impressed and touched by the initiative of our chambermaid who, having accidentally thrown away one of my packets of tea, wrote (in English!) a personal note of apology and left a whole box of replacement packets.

Physically, this 37-story Four Seasons is reassuringly similar to its sibling Four Seasons around the world. The public spaces are predictably lofty and lavish, with dramatic artwork that reflects the city or country in which it is located. Here in Shanghai, the hotel’s lobby jogs into a right-angle turn, extending into relaxed seating areas with a bar at one end of the room and a grand piano at the other.

Our room, while remarkable spacious and well appointed, had a curiously dated look and feel to it. As for being in a hotel in Shanghai, this room could have been in any country in the world, there was almost nothing Asian or even Far Eastern about it. In addition to the large king bed and night tables, the room also housed a seating area–a setting so clichéd and predictable it could have been moved here from a stage set in a ’70′s TV sitcom — a sofa and rectangular coffee table flanked by two upholstered club chairs. All in drab, nondescript colors. Across the room was a desk/office area three-line phone with voicemail. High-speed Internet access, is available for a fee. The only overtly “Asian” piece in the room was a large decorative chest that housed both the TV and the safe (it took a while for us to find that safe, having first ransacked the closet/dressing room trying to find it. A nice touch: this safe is large enough to hold a laptop. ) So while nothing in this entire room was run-down or shabby it was just surprisingly 1970-ish in style and ambience.

One definite plus was access to the hotel’s Executive Club. Located on the 37th floor, this welcoming and comfy lounge showcases stunning views of the city and, at night, overviews of its dazzling lights. One corner of the room is an “office” with two computers and a printer for guests to use. A separate space is dedicated to displaying and serving foods throughout the day – breakfasts which include cooked-to-your-order eggs, as well as other hot and cold Western breakfast favorites, plus a section of Chinese and Japanese morning favorites. There are snacks and drinks available during the day and then, as evening approaches, cocktails and canapés, which are served from 5:30 to 8 PM. A series of seating groups front the large windows so everyone can take advantage of the panoramic views. Given the multi-national cast of characters who come to enjoy this club, the whole experience becomes one of fellowship and good cheer. (Except for the smoking, which is allowed anywhere pretty much everywhere in China.)

On another completely different level of contentment, Qin, the Four Seasons’ Spa, delivers its feelings of well-being and euphoria via various spa techniques that are both classic and innovative. Step off the elevator on the 6th floor and you are instantly transported to a hushed, darkened space that is scented and pleasing to all the senses. The granite floor underfoot feels like well-worn ancient stone. The lacquered door is oversized and dramatic enough to have come straight from some imperial palace. Other decorative elements include the eight symbols of the I Ching : sky, earth, thunder, wind, water (moon) fire (sun) mountain and lake. But most significant of all is the inclusion of a doctor of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) on the Spa staff, as well as TCM treatments on the menu of regular spa treatments. A classic TCM treatment begins with a diagnosis (involving the Doctor following the basic steps of: observing, listening and smelling, inquiring and feeling.) Frequently the results of this diagnosis will include recommendations for specific herbal medicines, or acupuncture and tui na massage, or cupping treatments.

Treatment Suite for couples in the Qin Spa at the Four Seasons Shanghai (photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Shanghai)

Because Valentine’s Day was coming soon, we chose to experience a couple’s treatment that involved all sorts of romantic elements in a suite specifically designed for two people. The room was hushed and darkened, robes silky-soft on the skin, a therapist kneeling to perform a foot scrub and massage in a basin where rose petals floated on top. As for all the rest? I’m not really sure of all the details because my mind floated off somewhere into a lovely warm la-la-land as we were massaged, and soaked in warm tubs and pampered for an hour or so. Or maybe it was a few days? My only caveat is: don’t wait for Valentine’s Day to experience this treatment; create your own holiday and go for it.

Of the several restaurants in the hotel, we tried only one: Si Ji Xuan, featuring Cantonese cuisine with Shanghai influences. Like other Four Seasons public spaces this one has large proportions — high ceilings and (for this New Yorker) remarkable amounts of space between the tables. The room is dominated by an enormous aquarium, which houses a coral reef bustling with a bevy of day-glo fishes. (Must admit I always find it a bit intimidating to order fish from the menu under the unblinking stares from these finny kin-folk.) But we did really enjoy some stuffed crab, prawns in black bean sauce, pea shoots sautéed in garlic, and cold Singapore-style chicken. Towards the end of the meal, the hostess came over to chat with us. Her English was excellent. She had many questions about life in the USA, and also shared many personal insights about living and her own life in Shanghai.

And so, in the end, this five-star hotel experience was all about the people. The flawlessly trained and (so it seems) naturally caring staff members who see it as their regular daily workday goal to make visitors feel welcome and comfortable and appreciated. And they succeed.

FOUR SEASONS SHANGHAI
500 Weihai Lu
Shanghai
China 200041
Tel: 800 819 5053 (toll-free)
Tel: 86 21 6256 8888
reservations.shg@fourseasons.com

Friday, 13 May, 2011

 

___________________
© 2011 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island). Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

Hotel Preston is Posh, Stylish Boutique Hotel that Frees You to Explore Nashville’s

Redefines “airport hotel” while affording value over downtown boutique properties

by Karen Rubin

The Hotel Preston is a stylish, artful, wonderfully whimsical and luxurious boutique hotel, just five minutes from Nashville's airport

Who would have imagined that five minutes from Nashville’s modern airport, there would be a hotel with stunning design and artwork, live music and a dance floor in the lounge, a fitness center and swimming pool big enough to swim laps?

The Hotel Preston, literally just outside the perimeter, is a five-minute drive, but a world away from the airport. But its location (and free parking) it is THE place to be if your visit to Nashville is enhanced by mobility – giving you wheels, if not wings, to really get around.

The hotel offers a free shuttle from the airport, but rent a car so you can explore the Nashville environs like a local, taking in its live music venues (Blue Bird Cafe, the Station Inn) and trendy restaurants that are tucked into neighborhoods like East Nashville, the Gulch and Germantown outside the downtown.

Have the freedom to get on the Civil War Heritage Trail (the town of Franklin, just outside Nashville, should be a first stop), or follow the famous Natchez Trace that dates back to Indian days. Unravel the enigma of President Andrew Jackson at his fascinating home, The Hermitage; explore Belle Meade plantation where just about every champion race horse can trace its progenitor; tour Belmont Mansion (now Belmont College) to learn about one of the most fascinating women in American history, Adelica Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham (a real-life Scarlett O’Hara); visit Cheekwood, originally the estate of the Cheeks of Maxwell Coffee wealth, and now a fabulous art museum and formal gardens.

Take in the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, a game at Titans Stadium, hike around Radnor Lake, visit the Adventure Zone science museum and planetarium (see: Nashville for Families). And of course, no visit to Nashville would be complete without visiting the Grand Ole Opry, which is located outside the downtown. There is really so much to do but to take full advantage, you need wheels.

The Hotel Preston provides an excellent base to really get out and explore, and when you want to experience downtown – the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium, the honky tonks (I actually prefer to visit during the day to really enjoy the music) – it is just a quick 15-20 minute hop down the highway.

A Happening Place

The Pink Slip is on view in the hotel Preston lobby, before you enter the Pink Slip, a stylish lounge where there is live music most nights. © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Preston is an airport hotel with panache, that could just as easily fit in among the downtown boutique hotels, so so stylish, luxurious, offering excellent personal service and a distinctive charm that can only be described as “personality.”

I was struck by the stunning photography of Slick Lawson, featuring music greats like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash (it is fun to wander around the halls just to look at the photographs), that certainly set the stage for being in Music City USA.

For such a compact place, it’s remarkable how much is going on here. You don’t even have to go out to have a night on the town: dine at Café Isabella, a very pleasant dining room that serves up a sumptuous blend of what is fondly referred to as “Italian comfort food with southern roots.”

Then slip into the Pink Slip, a stylish Nashville Hotel bar, where there is live entertainment (we’re talking Nashville, so the entertainment is incredible), Wednesdays through Saturdays (8 pm to midnight).

This is a “hip, happening hotel” that exudes attitude, with luxurious boutique style accommodations (196 rooms and four suites),WiFi, flatscreen TV, plush bedding. Each room has a You Want It, You Got It button that caters to guests’ needs or whimsical desires; CD players; high-speed wireless Internet access; Aveda bath products; Pillow Menu and Spiritual Menu.

The lobby of the Hotel Preston shows off the artful design Credit: © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Every room in Hotel Preston houses an eclectic collection of art, serving up eye candy one piece at a time. Each piece utilizes a colorful palate presented by both blossoming and veteran artists, including: Jon Langford (Chicago), Ray Stephenson (Nashville), Chris Dean (Detroit), Sean Stucky (Chicago), Julia Martin (Nashville), Kevin Dresser (New York), Carl Linstrum (Atlanta), Mat Mikula (Nashville), Jim McGuire (Nashville), Slick Lawson (now deceased – Houston), Rick Lobdell (Nashville), April Street (East Tennessee) and Jeff Stamper (Nashville).

I love a place that smacks of creativity and cleverness and beauty without sacrificing ergonomics – there was Sweat (the fitness center); Gather (the ballroom); Think (boardroom). Instead of the mundane Women and Men to indicate gender on the bathrooms, there was Sit and Stand.

There is also an outdoor, lap-size swimming pool, and a fitness room.

The Hotel Preston is in the airport hotel district, but most of these are chain hotels that are geared to business travelers making a quick trip (a wonderful exception is the Embassy Suites, which is like a resort-style hotel ideal for families). The Preston stands out for its charm, style, personal service, wonderfully comfortable for a longer stay.

Hotel Preston offers luxurious boutique style accommodations, WiFi, flatscreen TV, plush bedding. You can even order up a pillow from a pillow menu. © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Hotel Preston would also be an alternative to staying downtown. Nashville has really seen a hotel building boom that has resulted in several stylish boutique hotels downtown (The Hutton is one we have enjoyed), but the Preston has the added advantage of value, particularly for families coming for Vanderbilt University events (especially Parents Weekend in October, Commencement in May) when rates at downtown hotels can be very high.

And it is a huge advantage how well situated the Hotel Preston is to get out and about.

This trip, we were able to sample some of the new restaurants that are forging a new reputation for Nashville in sophisticated dining, with an emphasis on flavorful and fresh, local ingredients (The Hermitage Hotel, a Historic Hotels of America member, even has its own farm cultivated by Chef Tyler Brown, himself).

Eastland Cafe is a vibrant neighborhood restaurant that is both comfortable and casually elegant. The open dining room has an inclusive, inviting feel, with dark mahogany wood panels and warmly lit tables, and an outdoor dining area. There is a relaxed energy that is immensely appealing to neighborhood regulars, couples out for a romantic evening, family gettogethers and business diners. The menu is creative with a masterful use of intriguing combinations of fresh ingredients that yield delectable flavors: pecan crusted Coleman Farms chicken; crawfish tails, andouille sausage, tasso ham, red potato, leek, tomato, arugula, zucchini, cajun butter sauce; Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with 5-spice honey glaze served with coconut rice, carrot and snow pea saute and lime marmalade (97 Chapel Avenue, Nashville 37206, 615-627-1088, www.eastlandcafe.com).

Eastland Cafe, in the trendy new East Nashville district, has a menu that features intriguing combinations of fresh ingredients that yield delectable flavors. Credit: © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Another restaurant that contradicts the notion of Nashville as obsessed with BBQ and fried chicken, is Marché Artisan Foods, a bustling European style café and marketplace located near “Five Points” in Historic East Nashville. A favorite for Sunday brunch, the market-style eatery also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner focusing on simple, seasonal cuisine that just astonishes the palette with flavor. You’ll also find a vast selection of house made pastries and a full coffee and espresso bar as well as fresh fish, meats, cheeses and a selection of gourmet grocery items for the adventurous home cook. The cafe is the vision of Margot McCormack and Jay Frein – the minds behind the nearby Margot Café & Bar. Located in the Walnut Exchange, a former telephone switching building, Marché offers a delightful ambience: its sunny windows and terrazzo floors make you feel transported to a sidewalk café in Italy. Marble top tables and wicker chairs provide comfortable and cozy dining spaces, giving a casual air, but the service is as elegant as a five-star. Rustic farm tables on the top floor serve larger parties and community-style dining. Most popular for brunch, but the supper here was absolutely special, and unexpected, like the Omlette du jour – what gets you is the absolute freshness, and the distinctiveness of the component flavors. Each item is paired with a recommended wine. The bread that is served is out of this world ( 1000 Main Street, Nashville, 37206, 615-262-1111, www.marcheartisanfoods.com).

Provenance Hotels

The Hotel Preston is owned by Provenance Hotels, the same company that built the Hotel deLuxe in Portland, Oregon, which I also enjoyed immensely and which similarly manifested the stunning modern design and luxurious accoutrements.

Provenance Hotels has quite a touch with boutique hotels. The company explains its approach:

“Today’s traveler is looking for something different. Something interesting. Something enticing, And yet, something with that specialized service we’ve all come to expect from a luxury hotel. Provenance Hotels does just that, treating every guest to a unique cultural story that inextricably links each individual property to our core brand. And yes, catering to their every need. The identities we create at each of our hotels, allow guests to form personal connections with the local community, the featured art and the hotel staff. Whether it’s Murano’s international glass collection or the deLuxe’s tribute to the Golden Era of Film, our contemporary hotels provide far more than just an inviting place to lay your head. We create savvy, branded experiences that highlight the culture of the city in which each hotel is located.”

Eastland Cafe's grilled flat-iron steak with cafe butter, served with house-cut pommes frites, asparagus, smoked ketchup © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Provenance Hotels has a proven track record of turning around underperforming assets, resulting in substantial increases in revenue. The company now has five owned and operated properties, totaling almost 1,000 rooms and a market value in excess of $370 million.

We first were introduced to the quality and style at the deLuxe Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon, which was opened in 2006, and were blown away by the respect for a historic structure, with modern sensibilities. and a stunning sense of design. The Hotel deLuxe is a contemporary tribute to the Golden Era of Hollywood filmmaking that tastefully balances art deco and art moderne styles for a mix of timeless sophistication and serene comfort. The deLuxe is close to the Pearl District and Nob Hill shopping and restaurants, and just steps away from the Max rail line for easy access to other popular Portland neighborhoods (you just hop on board to go to International Rose Test Garden and The Oregon Zoo). During our visit, we saw firsthand how popular the hotel is as a wedding destination.

Provenance also has the Hotel Lucia in Portland, where the amazing black-and-white photography of photojournalist David Hume Kennedy (Anwar Sadat, Ronald Reagan) add style and interest. (400 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon, 97205, 866-986-8086, 503-225-1717, www.hotellucia.com.)

The Hotel Max, in the heart of downtown Seattle, Washington, prides itself as providing a platform for both emerging and established Seattle artists and photographers. There are more than 350 original paintings and photographs found throughout our Seattle hotel in the lobby, guest rooms and corridors. Don’t forget about the bountiful attractions within walking distance of our Seattle hotel, or the great shopping available, and the hotel is a great place to stay when you are cruising out of Seattle. (620 Stewart Street, Seattle, WA 98101, 866-986-8087, 206-728-6299, www.hotelmaxseattle.com).

Marché Artisan Foods, a bustling European style café and marketplace located near "Five Points" in Historic East Nashville, offers a delightful atmosphere. © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Hotel Murano in Tacoma Washington, is distinguished by the world-class collection of Murano glass on view. Centrally located in downtown Tacoma, Hotel Murano is just blocks from the best Tacoma restaurants, Tacoma shopping and Tacoma sightseeing. amenities include wireless high-speed Internet (access fee), 24-hour fitness center, 24-hour business center, Spiritual Menu(1320 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, WA 98402, 866-986-8083, 253-238-8000, www.hotelmuranotacoma.com).

The Hotel Preston in Nashville is Provenance Hotels’ first foray outside of the Northwest (and for that matter, the first airport hotel), but here, too, the artistic quality (magnificent photographs) and sense of style creates a pleasing ambiance that is, well, comforting for a traveler, whether to explore Nashville’s attractions, visit Vanderbilt University, or coming for business, meeting or a special event. And pets are welcome, too.

Check the special offers on Hotel Preston’s website:

Explore Belle Meade plantation the breeding place for many of the most famous championship racehorses since before the Civil War, one of the fascinating attractions around Nashville. © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A Golfer’s Delight features a golf outing at Ravenwood Country Club in Nashville. The package includes an overnight stay, hot breakfast, a to-go lunch, 18 holes of golf and two drink tickets to unwind in the Pink Slip Lounge after your challenging game.

Stay Two Nights Receive the Third Free. The summer deal provides two nights at the best available rate and your third night is free.

Another convenience: a gas station with a convenience store just across the road, open late to pick up a snack or drink, and to refill the gas tank before returning the rental car.

Hotel Preston, 733 Envious Lane, off of Briley Parkway, just south of I-40, Nashville, Tennessee, 37217, 866-986-8089 , 615-361-5900 ,www.hotelpreston.com.

A handy Music City Vacation Guide is available from the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, One Nashville Place, 150 Fourth Avenue N Suite G-250 Nashville, TN 37219, 615-259-4700 , 800-657-6910 or www.visitmusiccity.com.

See also:

Nashville Like a Local

On the Town in Nashville, Music City U.S.A.

Nashville: Where the Heart & Soul of Country Music Beats Strong

Nashville for Families

Tuesday, 28 June, 2011

 

___________________
© 2011 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island). Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

Virginian Suites Offers Comforts of Home When Visiting Nation’s Capital

New member of Ascend Collection has 261 apartment-style suites and service of luxury hotel

by Karen Rubin

Virginian Suites in Arlington, Virginia, offers a home-away-from home when visiting the nation's capital © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Washington DC, the nation’s capital, can be a pretty frenetic, intense, pressurized place. So coming home to what is a home-away-from home, is especially comforting, letting you recharge for the next day’s meetings or sightseeing.

Virginian Suites, which just joined the Ascend Collection of hotels, offers 261 apartment-style suites that have all the space (even linen closet and full kitchen) of a large one-bedroom apartment, and all the creature comforts of a fine all-suite hotel (gorgeous lobbies, 24-hour high-tech gym, seasonal outdoor pool, breakfast served in a very pleasant room, a business center, meeting and event space). The decor is very pleasing – something between a hotel and a home, with big windows and fresh furnishings.

The pleasant breakfast room at Virginian Suites © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Studio and one-bedroom suites range from 440 – 610 square feet. Each suite features a fully equipped kitchen, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen HDTV. For families and extended stays, one-bedroom suites also house living rooms and dining rooms, and many suites boast large windows with dramatic city views.

Our room isn’t just furnished, it is furnished with an eye to making you as comfortable as possible: an ergonomic office desk chair, an incredibly comfortable king-sized bed, a complete living room with TV; a large entry closet; a leather sofa that opens to a bed (ideal for families); ironing board; a round dining table that seats four.

There is free WiFi in the room, as well as computer stations in the lobby.

Virginian Suites, now part of the Ascend Collection, has the comfort of home, and the service and amenities of a hotel © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It is easy to see why Virginian Suites is so popular with people coming to Washington for an extended stay, like the group of interns from Georgetown University we met.

Between the inclusive breakfast, coffee which is available most of the day, access to parking and the metro, Virginian Suites affords superb value.

And through the end of this year, the value is incredibly good:

Through the end of 2011, special rates at Virginian Suites start at $139 per night – probably the best deal in visiting Washington DC.

A private area in the breakfast lounge at Virginian Suites © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The hotel is located in Arlington, Virginia, less than two miles from downtown Washington DC, just about 10-15 minutes walk from the Rosslyn Metro Station (a shuttle service is available from the hotel), accessed by Blue and Orange lines. The Metro provides access to everything (it also has a large parking lot and is right off Route 50, which is a main thoroughfare).

Take the Metro just one stop to the fashionable West End neighborhood and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Less than five miles away, they can visit the National Zoo, monuments, White House, U.S. Capitol and renowned museums.

Virginian Suites Arlington National Cemetery and Iwo Jima Memorial and is just a mile from the lively shops, restaurants and nightlife of historic Georgetown. Mount Vernon also should not be missed.

The hotel is also reachable by Metro from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The fitness room at Virginian Suites is available 24/7. There is also an outdoor pool, in season © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Besides being ideal for people coming for professional (or political) purposes, Virginian Suites is great for families because of residential-style suites and large living spaces to spread out in, the fully equipped kitchens for prepping easy meals, snacks or just keeping leftovers in the fridge (and you have the added convenience of not having to fix breakfast), and offers easy access to DC via the Metro (more like a Disney ride than the New York City subway) and Mount Vernon (not to be missed), while being in a more residential area.

The National Mall, and the phenomenal museums of the Smithsonian Institution are actually also bikeable from the hotel (via Arlington Cemetery and then over a short bridge). (You can take your bike on Metro in non-peak hours)(bikewashington.org/visitor.htm).

There is also gorgeous dedicated biking trail all along the Virginia side to Alexandria and Mount Vernon: constructed by the National Park Service in 1973, the 18.5 mile Mount Vernon Trail runs along the Potomac River, parallel to the George Washington Parkway, between Theodore Roosevelt Island and Mount Vernon, VA, connecting to the Custis and Washington & Old Dominion trails.

The comfortable lobby lounge at Virginian Suites © 2011 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Virginian Suites just joined the Ascend Collection membership program from Choice Hotels International.

Ascend Collection is a network of historic, boutique and unique hotels that gives you an authentic, local experience. It was designed specifically for people who appreciate an upscale hotel with a strong local flair. Member hotels share a passion for delivering attentive service to guests seeking a more experimental travel experience. (For more information, visitwww.ascendcollection.com)

As part of this elite network, the stylish property remains independently owned, while also gaining a global reservations system and a guests rewards program with more than 13 million members worldwide.

 

Virginian Suites,
1500 Arlington Boulevard,
Arlington, Virginia 22209,
866-371-1446,
www.virginiansuites.com.

Friday, 11 November, 2011

 

___________________
© 2011 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island). Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

The Breakers: Iconic Palm Beach Resort, Has Relaxed, Contemporary Florida Feel

Facilities, Amenities and Ambiance Make The Breakers Tops for both Family-Friendly and Romantic Escapes

by Karen Rubin and Neil Leiberman

The iconic facade of landmarked The Breakers, built in 1926 with its twin Belvedere towers and graceful arches, which is based on the Villa Medici (1575) © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are a handful of hotels in the world which have such a distinctive personality and history, that are such unique destinations and hold such a special connection to “place,” they are known by the moniker, “The”. “The Breakers,” that iconic palace among American resorts, is such a place.

It’s not so much that you step back in time when you cross the threshold of The Breakers – it’s more a sense of timelessness.

You walk into the Italianate lobby with its vaulted ceilings, and feel yourself exhale. You feel time slowing down, almost standing still. You leave the cares of the world behind.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Breakers celebrated its 116th birthday during our visit, but has been reborn, revitalized to appeal to today’s discriminating travelers.

A Five Diamond luxury resort occupying 140 prime Palm Beach acres, The Breakers is as close to a palace as America ever has – vaulted, hand-painted ceilings, columns designed after the Medici Palace of Renaissance Italy, tapestries from the 15th century. Its storied history begins in 1896, but the magnificent structure we see today dates from the 1926, a Gilded Age masterpiece created by Henry Flagler’s descendents to honor his legacy.

It is stunning to realize that The Breakers is one of the few privately owned resorts to remain free of chain affiliation and is owned by Flagler’s descendents. It is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida.

The Breakers 200-foot long lobby with high-arched, painted ceilings, takes your breath away © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But as grand and as incomparably magnificent, as opulent as it is, The Breakers, today, offers a casual getaway, a place to unwind. As if it were your palace, much as that other Breakers, the Vanderbilt’s Newport mansion, was their family retreat.

Hardly anyone “dresses” for dinner anymore, not even for the fine dining restaurant. You may still see tuxedos and ballgowns, but those folks are probably bound for one of the charity benefits that so defines Palm Beach society. The style at today’s Breakers is casual, comfortable. It’s Florida, after all.

Henry M. Flagler, who basically invented the American resort and put Palm Beach on the map – first with his Royal Poinciana Hotel in 1894, when The Breakers was a simple inn to handle the overflow -understood that better than anyone. He even bought a railroad, built the railroad and had his railroad stop right at the end of the resort’s drive, so guests could simply saunter from their Pullman into the hotel lobby.

For 116 years, the Breakers has always adapted to what its guests want. And while The Breakers’ clientele has remained among the most discriminating, what they want has changed over time.

The way it has survived is to nurture and preserve what is so special, irreplaceable about The Breakers, but accommodate to contemporary needs and interests – this includes becoming a year-round property and cultivating a substantial corporate and meetings market.

The formality and stiffness that might have been appropriate generations ago, is no longer what vacationers to Florida, even tony Palm Beach, desire.

The change is apparent even in the way the staff interacts with guests. The service is impeccable, efficient, but cheerful and friendly.

The Breakers' private beach offers a variety of watersports, even scuba diving © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You see it in the innovations that have been introduced. The change in social mores from Flagler’s time to today is most evident in the way we modern families engage our children today.

The Breakers has put tremendous emphasis on families – in room design, children’s menus in all the restaurants, and particularly the ingenious combination of the Family Entertainment Center, with its interior playground adjacent to The Italian Restaurant, its pools (one of the new pools is a zero-entry “activity” pool), its activities and supervised children’s programs, and on and on.

Other “modern” innovations are the Old Florida-style bungalows around the pools, the world-class spa and fitness center, an organic herb garden and particularly the focus on locally produced ingredients in the menu, and its notable achievements in becoming a “green” hotel.

And you especially get that relaxed, refreshed feeling in the contemporary, yet elegant, styling in the guest rooms, all 540 of them including 68 suites, just renovated at a cost of $80 million, as part of a just-completed, five-year $200 million renovation of the resort (each year, The Breakers spends an average of $20 million a year on revitalization). There is also a new, 1700-q foot Imperial Designer Suite, created by fashion designers Mark Badgely and James Mischka, and four Royal Poinciana Suites.

We are ushered into our corner oceanfront room in the South Tower (S2136), which we are delighted to discover has two terraces. Opening the sliding door, the fresh sea breezes and the roar of the ocean crashing against the rocks, fill the room. (It is hard to believe this jewel-like aquamarine sea is the same Atlantic Ocean we see from Long Island’s south shore).

Our room, with stunning colors that evoke a sophisticated tropical lifestyle, has every imaginable amenity and creature comfort – double sinks in the bathroom, a bathtub and a shower, plus a remote-control TV, private label toiletries, a dressing room with two closets (plush cotton robes, of course, and an umbrella), private electronic safe, mini-bar and refrigerator, dual-line telephones with voicemail and data ports, wireless and high-speed internet access, flat screen TV, radio alarm clock with iPod docking station, in-room movies, wireless keyboard and Playstation® videogames. I note the quality of the fine-wood furnishings which are elegant, yet comfortable.

For guests who want greater privacy, The Flagler Club, is a private intimate residence comprised of restricted access rooms on the sixth and seventh floors of the hotel. These rooms offer exclusive concierge service and enhanced amenities including distinctive continental breakfast, fresh-baked cookies, afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, desserts and after-dinner cordials.

The Beach Club

The Relaxation Pool, one of two new pools at The Breakers is designed for serenity and for those seeking the ultimate in luxury, private bungalows © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

What put The Breakers on the map is its half-mile of private beach – in fact, The Breakers began as a modest beachfront inn to handle the “overflow” from Flagler’s posh Royal Poinciana Hotel. But the guests began to prefer to stay there and Henry Flagler complied, building a 425-room hotel with a guest register that read like a “Who’s Who” of early-20th century America: various Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Astors; the tycoons Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan; publisher William Randolph Hearst; the five-and-dime kings W.T. Grant and J.C. Penney; and even assorted European nobility and U.S. presidents.

Ever-innovating, a $15 million redevelopment of its beach front has created a Mediterranean-style Beach Club with magnificent vistas of the ocean and reminiscent of a panoramic island escape. The renovation created two new pools at the south end, surrounded by Old-Florida style bungalows amid lush tropical landscaping.

In all, there are now five pools, all completely different – a lap pool (love the New Age music); an all-purpose pool that seems larger than an Olympic pool and a kiddie pool. The two newest pools include an “activity pool” with zero-entry which really hits the spot for families, and a relaxation pool with a “zen” sort of design, where music and cell phones are prohibited.

An extraordinary innovation are the 25 private, luxury beach bungalows which you rent by the day, with a dedicated staff of concierges, that captures the essence of the Florida seaside experience with an inviting indoor/outdoor layout and fresh, open-air décor. Each beachfront retreat ranges from 300 to 400 sq. ft. including private patio and offers an array of amenities and services: tropical teak wood furnishings with a beautifully paneled room, day sofas, lounge area with living room and dining furniture; refrigerators (stocked in advance upon request) wet bar and beverage counter; wall-mounted flat screen TVs, PS3/DVD players, WiFi Internet access, cordless telephones, and personal safes; full bathrooms and showers, some with open-sky showers; personal amenity packages, robes and sandals.

As if this weren’t the peak of luxury, the bungalows have a dedicated staff of personal concierges who promptly and discreetly fulfill any requests of their bungalow guests throughout the day – whether facilitating dinner reservations, spa appointments and golf tee times; planning a romantic evening, or securing babysitters, extra play toys and transportation arrangements. The bungalow concierges are motivated by a wow-the-guest philosophy to fulfill and exceed guest expectations in tasteful yet creative ways – bringing a pineapple/coconut sorbet, tropical frozen cocktails, or even arranging a foot massage. (It is reminiscent of the days during Prohibition, when the privileged would be able to book a private dining room and order in a bottle of Scotch.)

One of least known aspects of The Breakers is that you can snorkel or scuba dive (even get your SCUBA certification) on a reef that extends all the way down to the Florida Keys, or at the Breakers’ sunken pier (it sank in a storm in the 1920s). You can join a snorkeling tour or get your SCUBA certification.

There is also kayaking, paddle boats, catamaran, boogie board rentals; the concierge can also arrange for deep-sea fishing excursion.

The Breakers is a place for We, Us, Me.

We: Family-Focus at The Breakers

Probably the biggest surprise is just how family-friendly and accommodating The Breakers has become, from the room design to the availability of children’s menus at all the restaurants, to the activity programs.

James Ponce, The Breakers historian, regales guests during his weekly historical tours © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Breakers accommodations were redesigned with families in mind, and a number of its rooms are connected; you can reserve up to three adjoining guest rooms. You can pre-arrange for child-proofing, arrange for step-stools, babysitters, a mini-refrigerator stocked with child-friendly items such as juice boxes; even a stroller. Children 16 and under stay free in the same room as their parents.

Other in-room amenities and services tailored to families: Media options include in-room movie system, offering in-room games such as Sony PlayStation® and age-appropriate movies, and family-friendly cable channels such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network; and a Welcome card from Coconut Crew Camp, inviting young guests to join in the fun with their families or on their own. By returning the card to the resort’s Family Entertainment Center, the child receives a complimentary gift.

On any day, there are a score of activities designed for families to do together – bonfires on the beach, bicycle tours of the island, games, family-fun golf, hayride, catamaran cruise, outdoor carnival, kayak races, snorkeling, kayaking, catamaran cruises, scavenger hunts, cooking demos, environmental and historic hotel tours, drive-in movies on the golf course in golf carts and dive-in movies in the pool, among many other seasonal and holiday-specific activities – many that are offered at no extra charge (tip: check in advance so you can plan and not miss out).

A trio of weekend events designed for family participation is scheduled year round. On Friday nights during the winter season, guests can join the activities team for a Bonfire on The Beach, a complimentary activity. Children also have the option to participate in Friday and Saturday Night Camp year round. On Saturdays, Sports of All Sorts is a complimentary competition that engages children and adults in a featured game or sport. Offered Friday through Sunday nights, Fun Zone features music and unlimited tokens in the resort’s 20-plus game arcade; counselors are on hand to play with the children.

In any week, there might be 50 activities offered out of some 500 offered throughout the year (check the program in advance to help you plan your visit, and make advance reservations as needed.)

There is an entire Family Entertainment Center, a 6,160-square-foot complex offers activities, entertainment and games for all ages under one roof, ingeniously attached to The Italian Restaurant, so parents can enjoy fine dining, and when the kids want to play, can simply go off to supervised activities.

The Family Entertainment Center (which can be a lifesaver if the weather should prove inclement), features an arcade with more than 20 classic and contemporary games; toddler and children’s playroom surrounded by glass windows (so parents dining in the adjacent family-friendly Italian Restaurant can see their children inside); children’s arts & craft room, featuring a 1,000 gallon Salt Water Aquarium filled with indigenous marine life ; children’s movie theater featuring entertaining films appropriate for all ages; indoor activities include Laser Tag, Tortoise Time, and themed parties such as magic shows, juggling shows, face painting, indoor “photo” scavenger hunt; video game room featuring Xbox® 360, Playstation® 3 and WiiTM with child-friendly games.

Also: an Outdoor sports court featuring basketball, floor hockey, dodgeball, hopscotch; a Playground with child-safe surface; has a jungle gym, cargo net, slide, and more. There are benches nearby for parents to supervise in comfort; Coconut Crew kids playhouse located outdoors adjacent to the sports court; Bicycle and tricycle rentals (helmets provided).

Family Golf is available at the Ocean Golf Course after 3 pm for at least one adult and one child. Adults pay a nominal fee for club rental, shoe rental and greens fee, and children 5-16 play free. Children’s club rentals are complimentary and children’s tees and scorecards are available. The Ocean Course is recognized by US Kids Golf and Play Golf America as a Family Friendly Facility. There’s also a Junior Golf program.

In addition to the activities families can enjoy together, there are also supervised activities for the kids so that parents can have “Us” Time., including monitored free play at the Family Entertainment Center, as an option to babysitting and Coconut Crew Camp, a supervised activity program available for half day, full day, and nighttime.

The Coconut Crew Camp is a daily program offering organized activities flexibly based on children’s developmental skills, recreational and social interests. Activities for children ages 3-12 focus on creativity, imagination, arts & crafts and outdoor adventures. Coconut Crew Camp also features an engaging program of activities – professional golf and tennis, snorkeling, soccer and swimming – that sharply contrasts with typically rigid sports instruction. The weekends kick off with Friday Night Camp, which begins with pizza in The Italian Restaurant followed by outdoor activities such as lawn games, swimming, playground activities, star gazing, seashell scavenger hunts and bonfires on the beach.

The Camp is operated by a staff fully-trained in CPR and first aid. The staff encourages sunscreen and helps children to re-apply sunscreen regardless of weather conditions. Participants are provided with water and snacks throughout the day. Lifeguards are present at all water events. There is a 1:5 counselor-to-child ratio. The Camp is scheduled and priced per session (9 a.m. -12:30 p.m. and noon – 3 p.m.) or per day (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.), to be flexible for family/individual preferences. (You should reserve in advance.)

Family-friendly Dining

“At The Breakers, a pleasurable time eating out does not have to translate into ‘babysitter!’ ” says Nick Velardo, director of food & beverage – restaurants, and the father of two boys. “In fact, guests thoroughly enjoy our restaurants with their children, as a wonderful backdrop for shared experiences.”

A private cabana at The Breakers © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Each of the resort’s nine distinct restaurant concepts – regardless of the level of formality – is family-friendly, with children’s menus, coloring books and crayons. The resort features a wide range of dining options from barefoot casual to elegant settings, including seven on-site and two off-property(free shuttle bus service provided).

The menus incorporate organic ingredients and can accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions. You also can get fast service so that the kids get served immediately. Children three years of age and under eat free of charge when ordering from the children’s menu.

(See The Breakers, Palm Beach’s iconic Luxury Destination Resort, Redefines the Dining Experience, Discovery, Jan. 27)

Us: The Place for Romance

The Breakers is probably one of the most romantic resorts in the world. The exquisite setting, the level of luxury, the pampering, the facilities, the ambiance make The Breakers the place to pop the question, have a destination wedding, celebrate an anniversary or milestone.

And if you have come with family, the supervised children’s activities means there is time just for yourselves – tennis, a round of golf, biking (rentals available; take the four-mile Lake Trail along the Intercoastal for a peek at some of the most incredible Palm Beach mansions), exploring museums like the Flagler Museum and the Norton, snorkeling or scuba diving sailing or kayaking; working out in the fitness center, a walk on a half-mile of private beach, lounging in a private bungalow alongside one of five pools; or a romantic dinner.

The Breakers offers two 18-hole championship courses including The Breakers Ocean Course (Florida’s oldest 18-hole course, a 6,100-yard, par 70 course redesigned by Brian Silva in 2000, located on site at The Breakers) and The Breakers Rees Jones® Course (reconstructed in December 2004 at a cost of $6 million by renowned golf course architect, Rees Jones, and named “Renovation of the Year,” by Golf Inc.) which is located 11 miles from the resort.

There is even an ocean “oasis” – a sort of “secret” hideaway on the beach you enter through a gate, and during evenings when there is a full moon, you can arrange for a massage in the moonlight, complete with champagne and strawberries.

Me: The Breakers’ World-Class Spa

An exquisite chandelier hangs from a skylight in The Circle, The Breakers' stunning dining room © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Spa at The Breakers offers haven for pampering and renewal, complemented by its incomparable oceanfront location.

It is the proud recipient of the 2011 Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Award and recognized as one of America’s Best Hotel and Resort Spas, reflecting the resort’s commitment to deliver the best spa experience to its customers with services of the highest quality.

The 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor spa, recently enhanced with a complete refurbishment, offers 17 treatment rooms, including several Spa Suites that accommodate a series of services in one indulgent experience. Massages can also be enjoyed in outdoor settings such as the Oceanfront Sanctuary or private, day-use bungalows, both with direct views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Many treatments incorporate sea and citrus ingredients indigenous to Florida.

The Breakers menu of services is regularly updated with new and interesting signature treatments that focus on personalization.

I get to enjoy one of The Breakers’ signature treatments, Personal Retreat Massage. This is customized to incorporate various therapeutic techniques tailored to what you want, whether it is to de-stress, relax or more intense sports therapy. My masseuse, Debbie, asks the style I would like (Swedish), even how much conversation I would like, and it is perfection.

Other Signature treatments include:

Orchidée Impériale Facial: An indulgent experience that capitalizes on the rejuvenating, strengthening and anti-aging properties of the orchid flower, found in Guerlain’s Orchidée Impériale Cream and simultaneous masks. This treatment reshapes, smooths and brightens the skin, and incorporates a hand, scalp and foot massage and optional facial waxing.

A Walk On The Beach Pedicure: This completely organic, “facial for the feet,” incorporates natural elements from the sea to exfoliate and invigorate the skin. The experience includes a refining exfoliation, a seaweed enriched mask, and an intensive, moisture-replenishing massage completes this marine-inspired treatment.

Fitness Assessment: Performed by a certified personal trainer. Includes a full body examination that tests endurance, strength and flexibility; and a complete body composition analysis using state-of-the-art equipment. Upon conclusion of this assessment, guests are provided with all results and a program for at-home use.

Also, a 1,400-square-foot Oceanview Fitness Center features 14-foot high windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, cardiovascular equipment, with personal televisions and iPod docking stations, free weights and strength equipment. Personalized fitness services including the signature Fitness Assessment, Personal Training, Training For Two and Body Composition Analysis. Fitness classes include yoga, Pilates, water conditioning, which is conducted in the adjacent 25-meter three-lane lap pool, and more.

Historical Tour

Our oceanfront room at The Breakers © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Breakers has such a rich history and heritage, its art and architecture so fascinating, that I do not miss the opportunity to join the weekly Historical Tour, conducted by The Breakers’ resident historian, James Ponce.

You can wander the hotel yourself, and there are helpful placards and photos that describe the history and important stories (such as the Tapestries), but hearing Ponce’s sonorous anecdotes, delivered with that special quality of a masterful Southern storyteller, is a treat.

Now 94 years old, James Ponce began working at The Breakers in 1952 and has been conducting the weekly historical tour for 28 years.

We stroll with him through the palatial halls, relive the glamour and admire the one-of-a-kind Italian Renaissance architectural design and artistry of the interiors. Ponce knows the cherubim and seraphim of the hotel’s ornate hand-painted ceilings (the work of 73 Florentine artists) and the personalities of the 44 nobles, conquerors, popes and Indian chiefs whose portraits hang in the ornate Gold Room, noting that Sir Francis Drake and Ponce de Leon glare at each other through eternity from opposite sides of the ceiling.

He regales us with stories of visits of celebrated guests who have been hosted over the years. Giving life to the bricks and mortar and storied past of The Breakers, history is clearly in this man’s genes; he can trace his ancestry to the oldest documented family (I believe he is related to Ponce de Leon’s brother).

The Breakers is a stunning work of art and architecture, and also holds a special place in the development of Palm Beach, Florida’s tourism, and the American resort.

The Breakers has become one of the most family-friendly resorts © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He relates the history and anecdotes with that lyrical style of the best of Southern storytelling, how Henry M. Flagler, who only had an 8th grade education and left home at 14, built the Standard Oil company with John D. Rockefeller and became one of the wealthiest men in the world and the innovator of the grand dame American resort hotel.

What is significant to know is that this magnificent structure we see today is the third Breakers – the first, a modest inn, was destroyed in a fire in 1904; the second, a much more ambitious 400-room hotel, also was destroyed in a fire in 1925.

By then, Henry Flagler had already been dead for 12 years; his heirs resolved to rebuild the hotel as a tribute to his legacy.

The Florida East Coast Hotel Company selected the architectural firm Schultze and Weaver, which later designed the Waldorf-Astoria, Pierre, and Sherry Netherlands Hotels in New York City.

The magnificent structure we see today was created in the Italian Renaissance-style, inspired by the magnificent Italian villas of the 1400s. For the hotel’s architectural style, Schultze and Weaver selected the Italian Renaissance. During an earlier trip to Rome, Leonard Schultze had admired the Villa Medici (1575), and used that building as the basis for The Breakers facade, with its twin Belvedere towers and graceful arches. The main lobby was inspired by the Great Hall of the Palazzo Carega (circa 1560) in Genoa. The 1,040-foot main drive leads to a fountain patterned after the fountain at the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

The construction company had just a year to build in order to open just after Christmas 1926, the start of the Palm Beach season.

The arcade in the Family Entertainment Center © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

More than 1,200 construction workers labored around-the-clock to meet the opening date. Seventy-three artisans were brought from Italy to complete the magnificent paintings on the ceilings of the lobby and first-floor public rooms. The immense structure was completed in a scant 11½ months and opened on December 29, 1926.

The Breakers exceeded everyone’s expectations. The 200-foot-long main lobby, with its high-arched ceiling decorated with paintings; the vast Florentine Dining Room, with its richly decorated, beamed ceiling modeled after the Palazzo Davanzati (ca. 1400) in Florence; the magnificent North and South Loggias; and the shaded terraces and landscaped patios.

The Breakers’ clientele is not big on packages, preferring instead to customize their experience (though there are periodic “deals”; check the website). My suggest is: sign for it.

The Breakers is ideal for everything from destination weddings, romantic getaways, family holidays, multi-generational holidays, family reunions. It is the place to go when you want to celebrate, decompress, recharge, when you want more than a vacation, but a memorable experience.

The Breakers,
One South Country Road,
Palm Beach, Florida 33480,
561-655-6611, 888-BREAKERS,
www.thebreakers.com.

See also:
The Breakers, Palm Beach’s Iconic Luxury Destination Resort, Redefines its Dining Experience

Tuesday, 07 February, 2012

 

___________________
© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island) orwww.travelwritersmagazine.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

The Breakers, Palm Beach’s Iconic Luxury Destination Resort, Redefines its Dining Experience

Even its fine-dining restaurants are casual and family-friendly

by Karen Rubin

There may be those who are disappointed that there is no longer a formal dress code at The Breakers, that iconic Palm Beach resort, an American palace if ever there was one; that it is no longer the rule that evening clothes be worn after 7 pm. Even the fine-dining restaurants are casual and family friendly.

Enjoy breakfast in The Circle, one of the most magnificent dining rooms in the world, with its stunning Italian Renaissance decoration © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But The Breakers, which celebrated its 116th birthday during our stay, has survived by responding to the desires and tastes of its most discriminating clientele. These days that means offering the ultimate, most luxurious respite to those whose lifestyles (and bank accounts) demand it. Guests today want a casual, comfortable resort experience (and who wants to pack dresses and associated shoes and accessories?).

The Breakers is still the keeper of tradition and heritage, but do not expect to find tuxedos and ballgowns, let alone suit-and-tie, even in the finest dining restaurant, though you are still apt to see such finery at the special functions and charity events that practically define Palm Beach society.

“We do what guests want and over the last decade, they want to be in a majestic property, feel they are in an incredible, historic place, but the way they go through the day is a lot more modern. The hotel is what they want. The menus, programming is also what they want,” says Nicholas Velardo, Director of Food & Beverage-Restaurants.

Being director of Food and Beverage for The Breakers has got to be one of the hardest jobs in all of food & beverage industry: balancing the high expectations of dining at an iconic destination resort, catering to a clientele of “been everywhere” people, heads of state, captains of industry, debutantes and billionaires, not to mention locals who frequent the dining establishments often.

At a Five Diamond destination resort like the Breakers, a big part of the experience is dining.

Families will absolutely adore The Italian Restaurant, cleverly set adjacent to The Breakers' Family Entertainment Center, a secure, self-contained complex where your kids can play when they are tired of sitting still, leaving you to enjoy your meal, together © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Breakers offers nine dining establishments, each a unique venue with a distinctive personality, ambiance. You can actually stay a full week and never dine in the same place twice. Two are actually off property entirely: Echo, an Asian Restaurant, and Top of the Point.

“It is food that is unusual, creative, but not over-manipulated,” Velardo says. Each of the restaurants is administered independently by its own executive chef.

The common element among them all is impeccable service that is as friendly as it is efficient, and stunning presentations.

Probably the most contemporary concept manifest at The Breakers is the devotion to local produce.

“We have always committed to local producers, partnering with farms. In last 3-4 years, getting credit for it.” Because no one farm can produce enough, The Breakers works with 30 different farms. “It makes it harder for us – the smaller farms couldn’t keep up, so we partner with many and do tomatoes from one farm for one restaurant, and tomatoes from another to another restaurant. In Florida, it would be crazy not to take advantage of locally sourced, organic, sustainably grown produce.”

Chefs at work at The Seafood Bar © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Most remarkably, The Breakers has organized Locotopia – serving as a conduit between local farms and other hotels in order to sustain the farms.

The Breakers even has its own organic herb and vegetable garden; the microgreens grown here are used in salads in restaurants. The garden is also used as one of the daily hotel activities, on organic gardening.

The Breakers goes further and makes the farm fresh produce available to employees, holding a green market just for employees on Friday afternoon, where they can buy fresh herbs, vegetables, honey, goat cheese at cost.

Wonderfully family-friendly, all the restaurants have children’s menus, with a wide variety of selections, with consideration to allergies and health issues.

“If a parent wants her child to eat healthy, they can. You can get chicken fingers, baked, broiled, or fried. We all have kids – so focus on what we would want for our kids.”

Dining Around The Breakers

We start our dining experience the night we arrive, at The Seafood Bar, appropriately overlooking the ocean. It is casual, comfortable, and chic – a perfect place to unwind. Neon blue light radiates from an L-shaped bar that is actually an aquarium (you can see little fishes and coral rocks) watery bar (like an aquarium); the open kitchen is bathed in lobster-red light. There are a couple of TVs if you have a hankering to watch one of the games on TV; there is also a second neon-lighted aquarium bar. It is lovely, and pleasant, and as comfortable for a couple having a romantic rendezvous as well as a family with two children in high-chairs. (Casual attire. Bathing suits require cover-ups. Tank tops, cutoffs, and torn jeans are not permitted.

Chef Brian Schuyler presents intriguing creations at Top of the Point, one of The Breakers' two, off-site restaurants. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The wine list has about 50-60 selections, all available by the glass (the Breakers is some 28,000 bottles of wine in its vault; you can request the sommelier to make suggestions, or even request the unpublished list of the full inventory.)

A popular place to go for lunch and dinner, the raw bar features fresh fish, clams, oysters, lobster, shrimp and delectable chowders. Each day there are 10 to 15 types of fresh fish from the waters of South Florida to Hawaii.

We enjoy New England clam chowder, served San Francisco-style in a sourbread bowl – which has just the right consistency (not too creamy) and texture.

The grilled salmon is fresh and moist, served with Smashed Bliss Potatoes, Sea Salt Grilled Asparagus and Lemon Spring Onion Butter.

A popular item is the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, with Summer Corn, Green Beans, Tomatoes, Smashed Potatoes and Cole Slaw Rémoulade

To finish, you might try an Expresso martini and an Upside Down Walnut Banana cake.

Families will absolutely adore The Italian Restaurant. Looking like your neighborhood restaurant (the one that has a lovely ambiance), you will find Italian “comfort food” -aromatic pizzas baked in brick ovens. fresh salads, homemade pastas and classic dishes. What is remarkable here, is that it is cleverly set adjacent to The Breakers’ Family Entertainment Center, a secure, self-contained complex where your kids can play when they are tired of sitting still, leaving you to enjoy your meal, together. The toddler playroom isin full view from the restaurant; there is an arts-and-crafts area, a video room (theater-style seats), an arcade (popular with Dads, too).

The Italian Restaurant may cater to families, but, “Is a serious restaurant, with serious wine list. Italian, so kids love it, and parents do too,” Velardo says.

From Top of the Point restaurant in West Palm Beach, you have a stunning view of the Breakers on Palm Beach Island © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Located on the second floor of the resort’s old-Florida style Clubhouse, The Flagler Steakhouse features a sporty Palm Beach ambiance with rich interiors, and panoramic views of the golf course from outdoor terrace seating. It is known for the finest USDA prime-grade and dry-aged meats; as well as seafood. It also has microbrews on tap, along with a robust list of red wines. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch. Casual and sportswear are the customary attire for lunch and Sunday brunch; resortwear is the customary attire for dinner.

While you are at the beach, enjoying the pools (there are five, each one different), or visit the spa or fitness center, you can lunch at the Ocean Grill or the Beach Club Restaurant.

The Ocean Grill is a beachside bar and grill with views of the pool and beach and panoramic views of the 10th green of The Ocean Golf Course, offering casual luncheon fare in a setting reminiscent of a seaside cottage. The China color and design is pure delight. We enjoyed light fare here, a Caesar salad with grilled chicken; Florida Lobster and Shrimp Burger served on a Portuguese muffin with spicy avocado mayonnaise and roasted heirloom tomato; Open daily for lunch. Casualwear is the customary attire.

The Beach Club Restaurant is a stylishly, relaxed setting for informal, al fresco dining and drinks, this indoor/outdoor restaurant overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and welcomes guests with an aura of casual sophistication and a décor of rich wood tones and contemporary seaside hues. Serving both à la carte and buffet breakfast, and a lunch menu featuring share plates, entrée salads, sandwiches and flatbreads all inspired by the local seasonal ingredients. And when you are relaxing in one of the poolside cabanas or the new, Old-Florida style cottages that ring the two newest pools (one is a relaxation pool, the other an “activity pool” with zero-entry), you can order your lunch brought to you in the cottage if you prefer.

The Beach Club is also the place to go after enjoying a spa treatment, next door. You can find a juice menu with fresh vegetable juices, bee pollen, wheatgrass shots and health-conscious items, (though all the restaurants have health-conscious items).

Step Back into Time

The view from Top of the Point restaurant © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The best place to feel yourself stepping back into The Breakers long and storied history and heritage is in the dining establishments in the oldest and most architecturally significant part of The Breakers and basically are where you might start and end your day:

The Circle, one of the most magnificent dining rooms in the world, evokes the ambiance of living in an Italian Renaissance palace, is used primarily for breakfast; and the Tapestry Bar, occupying a portion of what was the famed Florentine Room, The Breakers’ original dining room, is where you can lounge with an after-dinner drink and listen to live music.

Historically and architecturally a Gilded Age homage to the Italian Renaissance, both of these rooms offer a contemporary dining experience: The Circle, which was added to the 1926 structure in 1928 because the Florentine Room, though half a football field long, was not sufficient to accommodate all the guests, is mainly used for breakfast (a magnificent buffet and a chef who prepares omelettes to your request, as well as a full menu), as well as special events (an obvious enchanted venue for weddings). An enormous chandelier drops from a skylight, and sets off frescoes in the ceiling with painted scenes of Italy. You can even see the remnants of windows on a mezzanine level, which, during Prohibition, used to serve as private dining rooms where you were assured of being served hard liquor.

The magnificent Tapestry Bar, with its antique Flemish tapestries, 19th century English bar, Italian Renaissance setting, wine vault, and comfy sofas, offers contemporary live entertainment nightly © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Circle is also home to The Breakers renowned Sunday Brunch, a true Palm Beach tradition. Open daily. Casual and sportswear is the customary attire; resortwear is recommended for Sunday Brunch.

We finish our evening at The Tapestry Bar, like a large salon or lounge with comfortable sofas and chairs and candlelight. Named for the spectacular antique Flemish tapestries that adorn an entire wall, it features a 19th century mahogany bar from a Men’s Club in London that was destroyed during The Blitz.It serves wine, classic and specialty cocktails, appetizers and desserts; afternoon tea in season. There is live entertainment nightly. You can peek into the Wine Vault, containing some 7800 bottles. Resort wear is the customary attire here.

The Tapestry Bar is named for the utterly exquisite 16, 17 and 18th century Brussels tapestries. A historic description (there are many throughout the hotel, which is on the National Historic Register) tells an amazing story:

The tapestries were part of an art collection of Dr. Owen Kenan, first cousin to Mrs. Henry Flagler who served as hotel physician for the Royal Poinciana and The Breakers. He had a major art collection in his Paris apartment. At the outbreak of World War I, he sailed aboard the Luistania to rescue his art collection. Also aboard was Alfred Vanderbilt. When the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine, Vanderbilt’s valet gave Dr. Kenan his life jacket; both Vanderbilt and the valet perished. Dr. Kenan was saved by an Irish fishing boat and eventually made it to Paris, recovered the collection. The tapestries were in his North Carolina home until the 1960s when they were moved to the Flagler Museum, and finally to The Breakers.

The Beach Club Restaurant is a stylishly, relaxed setting for informal, al fresco dining and drinks, this indoor/outdoor restaurant overlooks the Atlantic Ocean © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Florentine Room has since served as the fine dining restaurant, L’Escalier. That restaurant is closed while the fine dining restaurant is being totally redesigned. The Tapestry Bar will be closing in July to make way for the new concept. The new restaurant is expected to reopen in November.

Two of The Breakers fine dining restaurants are actually off property – a bold stroke.

“We thought we could do things off property that we couldn’t do here,” Velardo says. “We want restaurants where if took out of property would still be successful on their own.”

Off-Site Restaurants

Situated only a few minutes from The Breakers in the heart of Palm Beach, Echo opened many years ago, long before Asian cuisine became a staple of sophisticated dining. The stylish, highly popular Echo features four distinct cuisines of Asia, spotlighting the aromatic and flavorful specialties of China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Its innovatively designed menu is categorized according to the Five Elements: Wind (small plates to begin the journey); Water (sushi, seafood, and shellfish); Fire (creations from the wok); Earth (meat, and poultry); and Flavor (desserts and sweets). An impressive cocktail menu and wine list, which includes numerous selections from top boutique wineries, complements Echo’s bold Asian flavors. It is open for dinner and happy hour. Resortwear is the customary attire.

The Courtyard is just the spot to enjoy a cup of fresh-roasted coffee and a bagel from the News & Gourmet © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You actually hop a shuttle bus from the entrance of the Breakers for the 10-minute ride across the Ochechobee Bridge to the Phillips Point East Tower in downtown West Palm Beach, and ride the elevator up to the penthouse to Top of the Point. From here, you have gorgeous views of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Atlantic Ocean and Palm Beach. Island, with The Breakers the most prominent and majestic structure in sight. At day’s end, you can relax at the bar to behold magical sunsets through floor-ceiling windows or from the observation deck, while enjoying specialty cocktails or sommelier-selected wines with distinctive appetizers; or enjoy a savory dinner of seasonal soups, salads, prime and natural meats and fresh seafood. Top of The Point is also a popular destination for after-dinner drinks and desserts. Even in this sophisticated, fine-dining setting, resortwear is the customary attire.

The restaurant is housed in what used to be the Governor’s Club, a Palm Beach tradition, and still is a club for breakfast and lunch.

Executive Chef Brian Schuyler has created a menu featuring modern American cuisine with global influences.

The menu is really intriguing. Amogn the appetizers, Octopus a la Plancha (Catalan Salad, Smoked Paprika, Piquillo Pepper Aioli & Chorizo Oil); Five Spice Seared Foie Gras (Maple Brioche, Roasted Banana & Parsnip Confiture, Mandarin and Pomegranate); Porcini and Chanterelle Mushroom Strudel (Braised Berkshire Pork Belly, Petite Herb Salad, Armagnac Beurre Fondue); Truffled Gorgonzola Fries.

We enjoy his Cream of Lobster soup with Mushroom Infusion, a delightful consistency (not too creamy) prepared with Porcini Fricassee, Micro Cabbage, and Chive.

Nicholas Velardo, Director of Food & Beverage-Restaurants for The Breakers, probably has the toughest job in the industry © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

For the main course, I can’t resist the “Prime Colossal Rib Chop” (it is “colossal”), served with twice-baked potato and asparagus, and a balsamic butter.

We also enjoy Pan Seared Diver Scallops, served with Wild Mushroom Risotto, French Beans, Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Lobster Beurre Blanc.

Another intriguing selection is Hazelnut Crusted Brook Trout, served with Creamy Anson Mills Polenta, Glazed Date & Mäche Salad, Tangerine Meunière.

We are served freshly baked bread with olive oil and seasoning (all the breads and desserts are baked here).

The chef prepares a breakfast omelette at The Circle © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The pricing of the menu items are actually in line with Palm Beach restaurants, and actually, the selections give value.

Finally, for a light breakfast or snack, you can go by The Breakers News & Gourmet for freshly roasted coffee and pastries, sandwiches, salads) and beverages (soft drinks, beer, wine), and a newspaper to enjoy amid the incomparable surroundings of the adjacent Palm Courtyard, or the gardens of the great lawn.

Wining along with dining is an event, as well.

With two master sommeliers on staff, 7800 bottles in its wine vault in the Tapestry Bar, and 28,000 in its wine collection (in the catacombs under the hotel), there may be a wine tasting on the activity schedule, or guests can request a wine tasting. Each of the restaurants has its own wine list, but you can also ask the sommelier to recommend a wine best suited to the meal, and connoisseurs can request to order from the unpublished wine list, Velardi says.

The iconic form of Breakers, prepared in chocolate.

The Breakers started out as a full American Plan resort, but these days, guests prefer more freedom. Still, guests who prefer MAP (breakfast and dinner) or AP, or even a Dine-Around only need to ask.

It’s The Breakers way.

The Breakers,
One South Country Road,
Palm Beach, Florida 33480,
561-655-6611, 888-BREAKERS,
www.thebreakers.com.

 

See also:
The Breakers: Iconic Palm Beach Resort, Has Relaxed, Contemporary Florida Feel

Tuesday, 07 February, 2012

 

___________________
© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island) orwww.travelwritersmagazine.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

Mohonk Mountain House, New York’s Historic Resort, Offers Getaway in Grand Tradition

Luxury resort has been welcoming families for 142 years

by Karen Rubin and Neil Leiberman

I have found the American Shangri-la. Who would have guessed it is a mere 90 miles from New York City, or that you can reach it by traveling the New York Thruway?

Mohonk Mountain House, historic grand resort in New Paltz, New York, has been offering rest, revitalization and rejuvenation to guests for 142 years © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But once you turn off the road from New Paltz and pass through the gate, it is 2.3 mile ride up a curving, sloping, narrow road (the sign reads, “Slowly and Quietly Please”) before you get your first, breathtaking sight of Mohonk Mountain House, itself – a 266-room Victorian stone castle, flanked with shingled wings with turrets.

Mohonk (the name means “lake in the sky”) is a sparkling wonder, tucked at the top of the Shawangunk Ridge, its rock formations rising majestically above a glacial lake, framing the enchanting castle.

The resort spans 2,200 acres, surrounded by 4.400 acres more of Mohonk Preserve. The entire ridgeline, preserved from Mohonk Mountain House through Minnewaska State Park and the Nature Conservancy’s Sam’s Point Preserve, totals 28,000 acres. Mohonk has won awards from the United Nations Environment Programme for its environmental stewardship.

The feeling of perfect peace, harmony, of leaving the cares of the world behind, as you get that shock of breathing in pure air, and swim in a chemical-free lake water, makes you believe you have, in fact, found Shangri-la in America.

You can easily imagine how Victorians would have arrived up these same roads just wide enough for a horse-drawn carriage. Those Society folk were leaving behind the bustle and stagnant air of the city. It is the same, today, pretty much. for we city-dwellers and suburbanites.

The first view of Mohonk Mountain House is as enthralling today as in 1869 when the resort opened © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Mohonk Mountain House has been family owned since 1869 when Albert Smiley purchased 280 acres and a ten-room inn.

Still owned and operated by the Smiley family (the fourth generation is n charge today), Mohonk Mountain House is one of the oldest family-owned resorts in existence. It was named a Historic Landmark in 1986 and is a member of Historic Hotels of America

The enchantment of Mohonk is its timelessness and sense of tradition. You cross the threshold where “Celebrating 142 years” is written in gold.

Mohonk is both refined and rustic. This is a place where men wear jackets in the formal dining room (if that is not for you, there is a casual dining room, as well). The resort is luxurious, but not in the way of gilding, sterling and crystal. Mohonk was designed as a rustic retreat, to get away from the stiff formality of Society. But it is luxurious in that everything you can imagine is there for you, and in the sense of being catered to with a level of service which is white glove, even if no one actually wears white gloves any more, yet warm and friendly. Indeed, it is the warm atmosphere, the ambiance, that makes Mohonk a place that people travel from afar to visit and return year after year.

The most stunning attraction, of course, is Lake Mohonk (“Mohonk” means “lake in the sky-), a sparkling wonder that is half-mile long, 60-feet deep, carved by a mile-high glacier. A sky lake, it is fed by rainwater. Limestone lines a part of the base and the calcium in the limestone acts as a buffer to any acidity that might occur in rainwater or runoff, so the water is pure.

Mohonk is old-fashioned in another way – a throwback to those days when vacationers would stay the whole season or a month or a week. Their days were filled with lectures, workshops, planned activities, meals, even Afternoon Tea, and they fell into this easy, casual rhythm.

Keeping this tradition, Mohonk Mountain House is a Full American Plan resort (a rarity these days). That means that the rate includes accommodations, three meals daily, Afternoon Tea and Cookies, and most activities (tennis on red clay and Har-tru courts, boating on the lake, even golf during midweek; you pay extra for horseback riding, carriage rides, weekend golf, and spa services).

Tradition is a big deal here – a novelty in these days – something you can actually hold up to and show a child: this is what tradition is; this is what heritage is. In an era when Big Corporate interests seem to dominate everything, when it is so incredibly hard to hold on to heritage and history against the forces and pressures of modernity, Mohonk Mountain House is a rare treasure.

The hike to Skytop Tower gives a stunning view of Mohonk Mountain House and the lake © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It isn’t just one of the most comprehensive resorts (basically, almost anything you can imagine at a resort is available there)… it is its timelessness, its class and classic quality that makes it such a novelty. This isn’t European, it is pure Americana.

You have this sense of time travel roaming the halls of the castle, and reveling in the vintage photos and drawings that fill the walls (original plans of the castle noting that it is made of fire-proof stone; portraits of speakers for programs the resort has hosted for 100 years; drawings of places like Venice where Mohonk guests would likely also travel).

Mohonk Mountain House has managed to maintain its 19th century charm while introducing amenities of the 21st century. The resort remains dedicated to providing “recreation and renewal of body, mind and spirit in a beautiful natural setting,”

That is exactly what you feel, sitting and rocking in a chair on the balcony of your room, gazing out over the lake and promontory on the other side.

It says something that Mohonk has 266 guest rooms, 138 working fireplaces and 238 balconies, It offers a variety of guestroom options, from elegant rooms in the Victorian Towers to charming guest cottages

Our room (570) in the castle is completely enchanting – with a working fireplace and, most exquisite of all, a terrace with two rocking chairs, overlooking the lake. I note the fine wood details and furnishings, a modern bathroom beautifully outfitted , plush robes I am drawn to the balcony and sit in the rocking chair awhile, then pull myself away to explore. the fact there is no television doesn’t faze me at all (there is a nightly movie and I think I spot a television room somewhere). There’s no television (it doesn’t faze me), but you can access WiFi in the room.

Still, I pull myself away and go off to explore the grounds- the lavish formal gardens reflecting French, Italian, and mid-19th century English landscaping styles, and find myself in a Victorian Maze.

Boating on the glacially formed Lake Mohonk gives you the best views of the cliffs and the castle hotel, not to mention a deer that might happen by © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Architecturally, Mohonk is a marvel, butits charm and appeal comes from the 125 “summerhouses” – these rustic gazebos – that are tucked here and there along the gravel paths that wind around the lake, and are built in improbable ways on top of the rock formations.

They are placed in such a way that when you sit in them, you think you are in your own world. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland, but without the weirdness.

We return to the House (as the hotel is called) in time for Afternoon Tea and Cookies, one of the many charms. There is a wide selection of teas (no coffee, because tea is traditional), and the popular thing is to find a couple of rocking chairs on the wide porches overlooking the lake, or find a gazebo.

After this respite, we take out a canoe, delighting in the absolute peace and quiet. The next afternoon, I take out a kayak and paddle right up to a deer at water’s edge.

We stroll around the lake, the best way to savor just how magnificent the setting is – a changing scene depending upon the angle of the sun and time of day, and make our way to the small beach and swimming docks for a late swim before dinner.

We have made a reservation in the formal dining room, but there are several options including a casual dining room. From the picture windows, we revel in the sunset, as well as the doting service.

The menu features modern American cuisine emphasizing seasonal, local ingredients and items indigenous to America. You choose two selections from among the appetizers and salads (the Maryland Blue Crab Cake with sweet shallots and remoulade was sensational; other selections included foie gras au torchon with sweet red onion and apple chips; house cured salmon with watercress and lemon creme fraiche and local Hudson River Valley artisan cheese plate). the selection of entrees included five-spiced duck breast with butter-poached fingerling potatoes and port reduction; seared lobster cod cake with red bliss potato puree and English pea puree; and grilled swordfish with fennel puree, sauteed olives and tomato relish – each with a suggested wine.

The wine list was ample, with an international selection from France, Italy, Germany, Argentina, as well as a range of domestic wines from Oregon, California, Washington (only one Hudson Valley selection, that we found, a Whitecliff). For dessert, we enjoyed the apple cobbler and refreshing mango and raspberry sorbets.

The menu also features “Sound Choice” items, appealing to the tastes of health-conscious guests, as well as vegetarian options, are on every menu. Kosher meals are also offered upon request.

After dinner, there are evening programs such as a nightly classic movie, a campfire, a talk (“Finding the Earliest Huguenot Houses: Archaeological Excavations on Huguenot Street). You can enroll your child in the Evening Children’s Program (an evening activity included a photo scavenger hunt)

Rustic and refined, Mohonk Mountain House, offers delightful sitting areas in interesting places, such as on the rock formations that jut into the lake.© 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Each day has a schedule of special activities – during our stay, they included pilates, fitness classes, core strengthening, beginning ballet barre and stretch, dance exercise a blacksmith demonstration. You can play croquet, shuffleboard. A new activity is Disc Golf, on a 9-hole course. Guided hikes are organized at 10 am and 2 pm daily. You can use the 9-hole putting green.

There is a supervised children’s program (housed in the Council House), for children 2-12 at no extra charge, with a night program for parents, plus activities like kid’s tennis (5-12 years old); teens tennis.

You can visit the Barn Museum, built in 1888, or take a House Tour to learn more about Mohonk’s history.

Mohonk’s forte may be the greater outdoors, but the good news here is that there is also plenty to do if the weather is inclement – not the least is a stunning indoor pool, an expanded Fitness Center, lectures, talks and classes, a billiards room.

I was surprised to see that you can play golf on the 110-year-old Scottish golf course,a historic landmark course, fashioned in the old-links tradition of St. Andrews, at no charge midweek (there is a charge on weekends), and play tennis on red clay or Har-Tru courts, and that the Kids Club is also included (even the nighttime program).

Other activities (for extra fees) include guided mountain bike ride, a new rock climbing program at Sky Top, escorted by an authorized guide from Alpine Endeavors (half day and full day), weekend golf, horseback riding, and carriage rides and special programs such as a photographers workshop.

A spectacular new offering is the 30,000 square foot, eco-friendly spa, with more than 200 windows that look out to the outdoors. Among the 50 treatments offered, signature treatments include “Shawangunk Grit” mineral body treatment that uses fine quartz grains quarried from the surrounding cliffs for a gentle exfoliation, combined with a soothing hydro-therapy bath; and the “Mohonk Red” Massage that uses the Mohonk Red Witch Hazel (a rare variety), grown on the grounds, and a variety of massage modalities to relax and renew. A new offering is a nature-inspired experience: Indigo Herbal Poultice Massage with aromatic blend of herbs. Couples can have a massage together in a private room with a fireplace. Men’s and teens’ treatments are also offered.

Fitness classes, yoga, Qi Gong and meditation classes are conducted on the 2,000 sq. ft “green roof” garden terrace (weather permitting).

One of the newest offerings is the Never Diet Again! Weight Loss and Wellness Program (offered on select dates), a program that replaces a deprivation (diet) model with a method using meditation and visualization to make choices that lead to a healthy lifestyle and sustained weight loss.

The program is one of 40 theme programs presented each year (a tradition, in fact, going back 100 years), including culinary classes, gardening workshops, photography workshops, music festivals, nature programs and mystery.

Mohonk is now a year-round resort (it turns into a winter wonderland with ice skating in an 18,000 sq. ft. pavilion, cross-country skiing, ice-climbing and such), and people may come for just a night or two, but no matter how long you stay, you fall into this rhythm, this community.

Discover Mohonk

You don’t “visit” Mohonk. You explore it, you discover it. There are 85 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, the most popular (and scenic) being a gravel path that rings the lake. You may well find yourself sharing a path with horseback riders or a horse-drawn carriage.

But in contrast to the manicured, manufactured and tempered kinds of experiences that define most guest experiences at resorts and especially theme parks, there is true adventure that starts just steps away from the porch where there is a line of rocking chairs.

The next morning, I wake early and go for a hike before breakfast, a 30-minute hike to the Sky Top Tower. As I walk along the gravel path, I come upon two deer, so secure in their preserve, they do not even bother to budge or even look up from where they munch leaves. The views looking back down at the castle hotel and the lake are stunning. In all, you hike up 300 feet to the stone tower, at 1,550 feet above sea level, the highest point.

The tower is the Albert K Smiley Memorial, which honors Mohonk’s founder, who lived from 1828 to 1912. The cornerstone was laid in 1921 and the tower was completed in 1923. It is empty inside, but you can climb to the top and be rewarded with a spectacular 360-degree view of the valley, farms, mountains.

I couldn’t have been more delighted to explore the tower if these were Roman construction or from King Arthur.

A sensational breakfast buffet served in the Main dining room seems to go on forever – there are chefs preparing omelettes to your specification; pancakes, waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, yogurts, fresh fruits, grains, cereals, croissant and fresh breads, freshly squeezed orange juice.

After breakfast, I set out to tackle The Labyrinth, a scramble to the Sky Top Tower. A sign at the entrance gives you ample warning: you will climb three ladders over, under and through various rock formations. You will go through such aptly named formations as Headache Rock, Fat Man’s Misery, Lemon Squeeze, and The Crevice – a deep, narrow crack (fissure) in the face of a cliff at far upper end, where there is a series of narrow ladders. It warns that this is “rigorous”, you must be in excellent physical condition, and not be afraid of heights”… Follow the red arrows. It is supposed to take 45 minutes. (You climb up but take the path down.)

Well, I set out by myself with inappropriate footgear (kids actually do this scramble, but you must have laced sneakers or hiking shoes that give traction), but that was only one of my excuses. Unlike theme parks and most tourist attractions, this sign did not exaggerate. This was really a challenge, and I loved it, but you shouldn’t do it on your own. I had to bail.

Instead, we go swimming in the lake. There is a small sand beach at the base of the rocky cliffs, and rafts where there are lounge chairs. Twice a day, the lifeguards organize a “lake swim” where you can swim from one side to the other. You may see fish swimming (even nesting).

Just above the swimming beach is the Granary, where you can sign up for the most amazing BBQ lunch as one of the lunch choices (recommended). The selection was fantastic: ribs, chicken, kielbasa, knockwurst, bratwurst, frankfurters; corn on the cob, potato, broccoli; various salads; fresh fruits, an array of freshly baked pies, an ice cream stand, lemonade. The tables were set with red and white checkered table cloths and we found seats overlooking the lake.

In the afternoon, we played tennis on red-clay courts (there are also Har-Tru courts) while the tennis pro was conducting classes for kids and teens.

Enchanting sitting places let you really escape © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Then it is back to the lake, for kayaking (there are also row boats, peddle boats and canoes available).

There never was a place that I so dreaded leaving more, or yearned to return to so much. Apparently, others feel the same because we met many people, even from afar, who have been back repeatedly. One family has held its reunion here for the past 12 years, coming as far away as Oregon.

Mohonk is very much a family place, and I cannot imagine a better choice for a family reunion (we met a family that has been coming back for 12 years), a destination wedding, or a family getaway. There is so much to enjoy together: paddle boats, canoes, rowboats and kayaks, even fishing on the lake; the small sand-beach and swimming in the lake (at certain hours, you can even swim across the lake), a playground in the woods, a supervised kids program, tennis; campfire. Planners are available to help organize a reunion or wedding.

Among the special programs for kids is a Junior Naturalist 0045perience (ages 4-12), offered daily through the Kids Club, to provide a hands-on approach to nature (complimentary to overnight guess)

It comes back to this delightful duality of being both classy and casual – and it comes down to a great place to introduce kids to such concepts as manners, tradition, and formality (A sign in the hallway reads “Parents – Please Do Not Allow Your Children To Run in Hallways.”). Mohonk manages to be classy without being snooty or stiff, sophisticated without being stodgy.

It is also the ideal size and setting for corporate groups, team-building, conferences (several were in progress during our visit). Mountain Lake Conference House, accommodating groups of 10 to 350 attendees.

You can also experience Mohonk Mountain House as a day-visitor, paying a fee to use the grounds and to have meals.

Check the website for getaway programs and packages, but expect to pay $200-$250 per person, per night, which is typical of an all-inclusive resort or luxury cruise.

Mohonk Mountain House, 1000 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz, NY 12561 , 800.772.6646,www.mohonk.com.

Area Attractions

There is so much to do in the New Paltz area, though, you can easily stay a week:

The Hudson River Valley wine trail, for example. Near to Mohonk Mountain House is Whitecliff, a 70-acre family-run vineyard and winery focused on artisanal, on-premise production of high quality wines. (Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery, 331 McKinstry Road, Gardiner, NY 12525, 845-255-4613, Email:whitecliffwine@netscape.net; see also www.shawangunkwinetrail.com. For more information about Hudson Valley wineries, visit http:www.HudsonValleyWineCountry.org.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home, Springwood, at Hyde Park; National Park Service, 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, New York 12538, 800-337-8474, www.nps.gov/hofr/index.htm

Relax on the porch in a rocking chair with some tea and cookies © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is America’s first presidential library and the only one used by a sitting president. It was conceived and built under President Roosevelt’s direction and opened to the public in 1941 (4079 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538, 800-FDR-VISIT or 845-486-7770).

Val-Kill Cottage, Eleanor Roosevelt’ retreat, office, home, and her “laboratory” for social change during the prominent and influential period of her life from 1924 until her death in 1962.

A National Historic Landmark District since 1985, Huguenot Street in New Paltz is the site of six original stone houses, the earliest dating to 1692. Tours are available from May through October, but you can stroll and admire the houses inhabited by our ancestors any time of year.

Walkway Over the Hudson: a 1.3-mile former railroad bridge connecting Highland to Poughkeepsie, 212-foot-high above the Hudson River,is now one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world (you can bike also), debuted in October 2009. The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was the longest bridge in the world when it was built in 1888.

Friday, 17 February, 2012

 

___________________
© 2012 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visitwww.examiner.com(In National)www.examiner.com(Long Island) orwww.travelwritersmagazine.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com

RIVERBARGE HOTEL GIVES UNIQUE VIEW OF AMERICA

Understanding history by exploring the waterways.

By Eleanor Rubin

Those who seek a place devoid of any stress, where you travel along a placid river observing a landscape whose tranquility is punctuated by the flap of birds, those who seek contentment where you can sit on a skydeck with the breeze caressing your face—then the RiverBarge River Explorer is for you.

A company called RiverBarge Excursions has taken a European style of touring by barge hotel and applied it in a novel way to the United States. In fact, though there is a company offering river excursions by historic and new paddlewheelers, RiverBarge Excursion Lines is the only hotel barge on American waterways.

A barge is a large flat-bottomed vessel purposely built for navigation on rivers and inland waterways. River pilots know that a barge is the most versatile, safe and stable craft that can ply the river. In fact, America’s locks and dams have all been designed with the barge in mind. Company founder Eddie Conrad, who had operated a fleet of commercial barges, saw the potential of modifying the barge as a hotel in order to bring explorers closer to the great American rivers in proximity and understanding of their importance to America’s development.

 

Measuring 730 ft. long and 50 ft. high, the R/B River Explorer was built in 1998, and actually is made up of two 295- ft. river barges named after America’s earliest explorers of the Mississippi – the forward DeSoto (where the public rooms are situated) and the aft LaSalle (where the 98 staterooms are), each with their own elevators. The vessel is propelled by the Miss Nari, a 3,000 horsepower towboat, the only one in America with Z Peller 360° propulsion units.

The staterooms are spacious, each measuring 200 square feet, and are located on the Royal (main) and Platinum (upper) decks of the LaSalle. All feature individual air conditioning and heating, choice of super queen or twin beds, full tub and shower, satellite TV and VCR, alarm clock telephone, mini refrigerator, large closets, hair dryer. Staterooms on the Platinum deck also feature balconies. There are three rooms which are wheelchair accessible. Each room has a large picture window that opens, so that you can observe the landscape (binoculars are provided in the room, as well).

The public rooms include The Sprague, a multi-purpose, two-story entertainment facility that can accommodate all guests, and the adjacent Crevasse bar; the Lobby is a popular place to read, play cards, watch the river through the Rio Vista’s large solarium-style windows and visit the Purser’s Desk for additional information; the Guest Pilot House is a replica of the real pilothouse, featuring authentic pilot chairs, radar, river charts and radio with actual transmissions from the Bridge. The Governor Galvez Room, named for the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, features three card, poker and bumper pool tables and video and book libraries. The area can also be used as a small meeting room.

Guests can sit in the sun on the Sky Deck, home to the Under the Bridge Bar, The Gym, two whirlpool tubs and a jogging and walking track.

Traveling on the RiverBarge is a completely different experience than cruising, where the emphasis is on onboard activities and entertainment; sailing or boating, where the emphasis is on the boat.

On the RiverBarge, it is the rivers, themselves, and the culture that has grown up around them that is the focus of the trip–how the rivers shaped America by fostering commerce and settlement and tied some of its most influential cities together. RiverBarge Excursions offers a selection of itineraries ranging from four to 10 days in seven regions of the country’s rivers. Guests can experience the ease and complexities of river travel by watching other river traffic and what is coming around the bends, as well as wildlife and vegetation along the shores.

The essential aim of RiverBarge Excursions is to create a feeling of family-whether you have come with your own, or not. In essence, the barge becomes a floating community of people who share your interest in exploration.

The emphasis of RiverBarge Excursions are the shore activities, entertainment and special events that are arranged so that guests can experience the culture, history and sights of a region as if you were escorted by your favorite relative who lived there.

This sense of community starts with the exceptional staff–warm, friendly and accommodating. The intimate nature of the barge-accommodating 198 guests-the common interest in exploration, the casual atmosphere and the open seating at meals, all contribute to this. As the trip progressed, the strangers, the staff, the captains, all melded into a family.

As a matter of fact, the RiverBarge it has all the comforts of home. The galley has a refrigerator where you can help yourself to all kinds of goodies. There is a big cookie jar as well as coffee, cappucino, tea, sodas etc. that all people are encouraged to partake of. Just in case you may want something between meals or a late night snack.

The meals are good southern homestyle cookin’. I didn’t hear one complaint about the food for during the entire trip. There is open seating for every meal. This is conducive to get to know all of your temporary “family”. Breakfasts and lunches are abundant buffets that are pleasing to the eyes as well as a delight to the palate. Dinners are served a la carte. If you do not see something you want, you only need to ask. They are very accommodating. There is a minimal charge for liquor and beer but non-alcoholic beverages are provided.

‘Expanding Frontiers’

I discovered the special appeal of the RiverBarge, taking the “Expanding Frontiers,” a week-long excursion that departs from Nashville, and lets you experience the Cumberland River, Clarksville, TN, Lake Barkley, Ohio River, Paducah, KY, the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, the Mississippi River and Cape Girardeau, MO, before arriving in St. Louis, where the key attractions are the Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion.

When we came on board, we were given a name tag with the name of the barge on a neck-chain. This served multi purposes: it helped us get to know each other onboard, and and when we went ashore, it served as our admission ticket to museums and exhibits. We went freely everywhere because the tag identified us as RiverBarge Excursion travelers. This is an aspect of the all-inclusive nature of the trip: in addition to accommodations, entertainment and all meals on each excursion, RiverBarge Excursions’ basic price always includes all tips, taxes, port charges and scheduled shore activities.

The trip started in Nashville, Tennessee, which has come to be known as the Country Music capital (it is the home of the original Grand Ol’ Opry, which still stands, but there is a big new one). Nashville also boasts being the hometown of three presidents, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James Polk.

After Nashville, we traveled to Clarksville, Tennessee, where we visited a museum that had the most awesome embroidery exhibit as well as a miniature train assembly run by volunteers, and an exhibit about Sequoia and Samuel Morse.

Our next stop was Paducah, Kentucky. This is really an interesting and alive city. The River Heritage Museum should not be missed. On a whim, I went on a carriage ride (not included with the tag). The flood walls have the most magnificent paintings about their history. When you leave Paducah, you see the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, which you can identify by the different colors of the waters.

We went next to Cape Girardeau, which has a church with the most beautiful interior, done in mosaics with lots of shiny gold glass.

When we landed in St. Louis, it signaled the end of our wonderful trip. The barge docked in front of the Gateway Arch. You can take a bus provided by the barge or walk to the Arch. There is a museum and a tram that goes to the top where you can get a wonderful view of St. Louis.

The time spent on board passes very pleasantly and is very relaxed and casual. There is a jogging and walking track, shuffleboard, a well equipped gym and Jaccuzis. There is a library well stocked with books. You can read on the skydeck or watch the panorama of trees and sunsets go by. We chatted and played cards and before long, the guests got to know each other well. At night there was entertainment in the Sprague theater, Blue Grass music, jazz and a swing band which got us dancing. Regional entertainers including gospel choirs, storytellers, dancers and bluegrass, Cajun and blues bands are hand picked from various landings to perform on board.

Families are encouraged. children under l2 can travel free when they are in the staterooms with their parents; teenagers (up to 18) travel at half price.

Indeed, the casual nature of the trip, the opportunity to go ashore each day, make the trip a good choice for “Grandtravel”-where grandparents take their grandchildren on a trip where they can spend a lot of quality time together and share experiences of a lifetime-as well as intergenerational vacations. The experience offers a first-hand view of what youngsters are learning in Social Studies-how the rivers shaped America’s development-and there are also opportunities to watch wildlife, even alligators. From Swamp Tours of America’s wildest freshwater swamps and bluegrass bands, to animated storytellers, the trips can be very satisfying vacations. Moreover, children 12 and under travel free when sharing a stateroom with grandparents.

The trips also cater to the rising interest in “geotourism”-travel that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place being visited, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of its residents. RiverBarge Excursions caters to these travelers on all the trips.

The tradition of storytelling, such a central part of our culture, is also given new vitality by the RiverBarge Excursions. Onboard, guests experience storytelling as an art form.

Special Deals

There is a Scholarship for Teachers program allowing teachers as well as retired teachers to travel at half price when accompanied by a full-fare companion.

Guests can also take advantage of an early booking bonus, by booking six months or more in advance to earn $100 in “Barge Bucks,” an onboard credit. And once an Explorer, you get to be a special BargeMate Guest to receive special benefits, like participating in inaugural ceremonies on new itineraries.

“Home Free” program allows guests complimentary transportation from the Destination Landing to the Boarding Landing, or they can begin at the Destination Landing and receive complimentary airfare to where the vacation begins. In select cities, motorcoach transportation is provided back to the boarding city.

RiverBarge Excursion Lines, Inc. was created by barge expert Eddie Conrad to offer explorers the chance to see America differently, and it is not unusual for him to travel aboard the R/B Explorer to get to know the guests.

A New Orleans native, his love for river travel began when he was 16 years old and he set off in Lewis & Clark fashion to find the source of the Mississippi at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Armed with a love for adventure and an interest in history and culture, he was mesmerized with the people who lived along the rivers as he made his way back home. In 1960, at the age of 20, he began working in the inland barge business and three years later, founded the Compass Towing Company, Inc., that grew to 40 boats and 500 employees.

His desire to share his love for Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cultures led to his founding of RV River Charters, Inc., in 1990, owner of specially designed barges carrying RVs along the bayous and backwaters of southern Louisiana and the Mississippi River. This “cruising campground” gave him the idea for the R/B River Explorer, and he founded RiverBarge Excursion Lines in 1995.

His dream was to have a river barge with the comforts of a hotel that was family oriented without any regimentation or pretentiousness, as for instance a cruise, where you could share the stories of how the rivers shaped America with travelers. Someplace where you can be on your own and have fun. You know what? He succeeded.

Variety of Excursions Offered

RiverBarge Excursion Lines operates the R/B River Explorer on four to ten-day excursions to seven regions of America’s rivers and the Gulf Coast year round:

A new excursion, 1st Explorers begins and ends in New Orleans, and travels the full Atchafalaya River, part of the Atchafalaya River Basin, the largest river swamp in the country. It travels to Natchez, Mississippi, Baton Route, La., Breaux Bridge, the crawfish capital of the world to savor Cajun food and dancing ($2,245 pp/double).

The Route of Jean Lafitte goes from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas to Port Isabel, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico along the Texas-Louisiana Intracoastal Waterway through the National Wildlife Refuge for a look at migratory birds such as the endangered Whooping Cranes.

The Delta South cruises between New Orleans and Memphis on the lower Mississippi River; Cajuns and Creoles features the Atchafalaya River Basin and the lower Mississippi River; The Arch and the Pyramid operates between St. Louis and Memphis on the upper and lower Mississippi River, separated by the confluence of the Ohio River.

Expanding Frontiers is the Nashville and The Cumberland River Valley; America’s Junction is Cincinnati and The Ohio River Valley. “Show Me” – The Big Muddy operates between St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri on The Missouri River Valley.

Specially themed trips are offered throughout the year, as well including:

Mardi Gras Mambo, a six-day excursion filled with revelry. Travel the Bayou Swamps of Southern Louisiana. The riverbarge docks in New Orleans for the Mardi Gras Weekend. The barge is your hotel and the base for participation in the festivities ($1740 pp/double).

Rivers to Rails, an eight-day excursion along the Ohio River, experiencing both modes of travel. The Cincinnati round trip begins with visit to Ripley and a stop at Marietta. There you cross the Hocking River Valley onboard old 1920s railcars to view an 1850s village, Robins Crossing and Hocking Barge Canal. Guests barge to Portsmouth, called “America’s Hometown,” and Huntington, Virginia, to explore the National Coal Heritage Area ($2290 pp/dbl.)

Voyage of Discovery harkens back to the gallant days of Lewis and Clark while exploring the Missouri River Valley on a seven-day excursion beginning in Kansas City and ending in St. Louis ($2640 pp/double).

Literature, Lore and Lyrics is an eight-day excursion from New Orleans to Memphis, visiting Baton Rouge, Natchez and historical Vicksburg National Military Park ($2,526 pp/double).

Foliage and Fillies an eight-day mid-October Foliage and Fillies trip, to enjoy the peak of fall color and the Keeneland Horse Race Track in Kentucky ($2,390 pp/d).

Pricing is fully inclusive of tips, taxes, port charges, all meals and scheduled shore activities and varies depending on length and region of excursion. Based on double occupancy, a four-day excursion begins at $750 per person and a ten-day excursion begins at $2,375 per person (children under 12 travel free, when they share adults’ stateroom; teenagers 18 and under travel for half-price).

Contact RiverBarge Excursion Lines, Inc., 201 Opelousas Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70114, 888-GOBARGE, visit www.riverbarge.com.

___________________
© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

WINDJAMMING ON THE NATHANIEL BOWDITCH:

Sailing a Historic Ship on Maine’s Penobscot Bay is a Voyage
By Karen Rubin & Neil Leiberman

We are “flying” over the surface of the water at 8 knots, heeling at such an angle that one side of the ship is just about dipping into the water. But not quite. We can see through our sails on the Nathaniel Bowditch to the billowed sails of the American Eagle, another proud windjammer, following just behind for the moment.

Just a couple of days before (it seems like long ago), we were sailing out of Rockland harbor into the Penobscot Bay, with theStephen Taber off our port side, magnificently framed against the Rockland Lighthouse, a perfect picture that could have been made a century ago. As we sail further away from port, we soon feel we have indeed slipped back to that time, when the windjammers-those workhorses that carried cargo up and down the eastern seaboard–ruled these waters. Now it is mainly the lobster boats, and the lines that link the colorfully marked buoys-so thick in some parts it seems you could almost walk from one to another–to the traps below are like webs just below the surface that catch our ship, as well.

We are lucky on our trip to have a variety of weather and sailing conditions. One night, we fall asleep underneath a star-studded sky, the Milky Way laid out before us like a twinkling blanket, and wake up shrouded in a thick fog then sail into clear skies propelled by a strong wind that gives us the feeling of flying across the water, and finally, we bob through fog and choppy seas on the return to harbor.

It is a weird and wonderful feeling to be so dependent on the weather. In fact, dependent upon Nature: the tides, the current, the positioning of rocks, where nature has plunked islands and ports in its glacial sculpturing. Out here, what had seemed so basic becomes profound. You are reminded of what a small speck you are in the firmament, in the eons of time.

You appreciate things so much more. These magnificent windjammers, for example. Most of the 14 ships in the Maine Windjammer Fleet are historic vessels, and all harken back to the days of power mainly by wind and muscle (okay, there is an engine, too). Simple machines, you might think, but hardly simple. From the first moments, as we get underway, I am amazed by how much skill, knowledge and experience is involved, even though we quickly take our place on the line, or helping to crank up the anchor, and even at the helm, steering the ship with compass, and charts, and yes, the wind.

This is nothing like a cruise. It is a voyage.

“I know exactly where we are going,” Capt. Owen Dorr says when we get ready to set sail. “We will leave today at 10 and go to a nice place; tomorrow, another nice place; when we drop anchor, it’s a good chance that’s where we’ll be. Where we are-I can tell you-is directly above the center of the earth.” In other words, we will go where the wind and tide will carry us.

Most-not all-of our fellow passengers are sailors themselves who appreciated the fine design and features of the 82-foot long double-masted Nathaniel Bowditch, a historic ship which began its career in 1922 as a racing yacht (it won special class honors in the 1923 Bermuda Race), and had an illustrious career in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. hunting submarines before being refitted as a fishing schooner, and then, finally, lovingly reclaimed as a windjammer for passenger cruises.

Crew and passengers of the Nathaniel Bowditch work together to raise the sails (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

Those of us who would dream of a chance to sail such a vessel get their wish-hoisting sails (even with eight on each the line, it is harder than you think), and hauling up the 400 pound anchor with an iron crank. Several of us take turns at the helm, learning how to watch the compass and point the bow, and getting that feeling of steering such a big, powerful ship under sail. We watch in amazement as crewmembers Chris or Tim climb the ladders to the top of the mast to attach a line.

Participation is encouraged, but not mandatory. Since the mainsail weighs 1,200 lbs., “the more hands the merrier.” We are 20 passengers on this voyage and we really do contribute a lot and I wonder how the crew of six manages when the Bowditch goes out with many fewer than the 24 passengers it carries. “With fewer people, there is more work, more profanity,” deckhand Lauren jokes.

We quickly learn the language and the rhythm of the commands: “2-6, heave; 2-6 heave,” and “Ready on the peak,” “Ready on the throat”.

We start out as strangers, but very quickly become companions. That is very probably because of the “heave to” that we do in teams-and because there are few distractions so that we each become a source of curiosity and interest to each other.

The Windjammer experience is as much about the people-the personality of the captain, the crew, and the passengers-and the interplay with the ship that has its own persona. All of these combine into a serendipitous experience.

We are lucky again-we have such a great group of people, who hail from all over the country-Ohio, upstate New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and even London–and with very different backgrounds.

Most of us are in our 50s to 60s, but one couple has brought their teenage daughter (who celebrates her 16th birthday during our trip) and her friend. I can see how this would be a great experience for an extended family or a family reunion; in fact, some of the windjammers can be taken over by a group. Some of the ships (like the Isaac Evans and the Nathaniel Hawthorne) even encourage families and children as young as eight. Capt. Owen, in fact, has a three-year old son, Spencer, who will likely be on some of the voyages this season-very probably the trips that cater to families.

Captain Owen Dorr of the windjammer Nathaniel Bowditch gives advice on steering the ship(Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

Like the ship he now owns and commands, which was built nearby in East Boothbay, Capt. Owen Dorr is a native Mainer with a forthright manner and a droll sense of humor. He is passionate about sailing and had served as crew and first mate on windjammers for 20 years before taking the plunge and purchasing the Nathaniel Bowditch.

The people like Captain Owen and his wife, Cathie, who take over such ships, do it not just because they have a passion for sailing and life on the water; they recognize their responsibility as a caretaker of these proud ships. They adopt it. “We are the caretakers,” says Capt. Owen. “Our mission is to leave her better than we found her.” That is what Capt. Owen intends.

Each morning, we are lulled from sleep and lured from our cabins by the aroma of freshly baked muffins or scones-absolutely delectable-and coffee, followed by a sit-down breakfast served in the galley–of quiche or pancakes or eggs.

Lunch is a hearty soup or chili, very fresh and full of vegetables or beans, with freshly baked bread still hot from the oven.

Desserts are memorable-like a strawberry rhubarb pie with an amazing piecrust, or, after an “Italian night” dinner of eggplant parmagian served with freshly baked foccocia, peach cobbler served with homemade vanilla ice cream we have just prepared by grinding the ice, milk and flavorings together in an antique ice cream maker.

Meg, the cook (as well as deckhand), admits to never having cooked before she took on the role on the ship-it is a skill she has acquired deliberately, like sailing. We are in disbelief because everything has been so scrumptious.

When we have enjoyed something in particular and ask her recipe-like the delectable and wholesome butternut squash soup she has whipped up for Monday’s lunch, with onions, garlic, cumin, curry, she simply refers us to her two “Bibles”: “The Joy of Cooking” and “How to Cook Everything.” She confides about some of the challenges-like how the humidity can be so severe, it causes the baked bread to fail. But she really has a knack. She actually raises her own herbs in the galley. (Since she gets up at 4:30 a.m. each day, quiet time on this ship starts at 9 p.m.)

Chris, just a high school senior this year (he loves drama and would be my pick to be discovered for Hollywood) is straight out of central casting of the “Hornblower” series–striking blue eyes, wavy blond hair, handsome, nimble, lean and wiry.

Lauren, self-described “galley goddess and “deckhand dog”, is a real sailor-her mother was a racer.

Tim is a geology student from Philadelphia, talks about how fabulous it is to crew, learning all new and varied skills.

Monday night, after our first full day of sailing, we pull into this little cove between two islands to anchor. Since they are privately owned, we are not allowed to go ashore. We spend some time taking out the rowboat and feel like we are exploring.

The next morning we get under sail and find ourselves in a veritable “minefield” of lobster pots as far as the eye could see. To our uninitiated eye, it looks like the lobstermen are too aggressive and could harvest the lobsters to extinction; later, we meet a local who raises similar concern.

Soon, we find we are tangled in a line–a serious matter, since it is the lobsterman’s livelihood on the line. Capt. Owen does his best to free us without interfering with the trap. Finally, a lobster boat-a father and son-come by and help free us from the two traps (one is theirs).

It’s a big deal-if would lose the pot would also lose a precious medallion-only 800 medallions are allocated to each licensed lobsterman, and they are hard to get.

Watching the lobsterman and his son, we come away with a better appreciation for how grueling the job is, especially in the cold, foul weather.

Lobster Bake

A lobster bake is one of the highlights of any Maine windjammer cruise, and was certainly a highlight of our trip on the Nathaniel Bowditch, anchored (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

We are actually good business for the lobstermen.

The highlight of the voyage for all the windjammers in the Maine Windjammer fleet is a Lobster bake on an uninhabited island.

Capt. Owen watches the weather and decides that Tuesday, rather than Wednesday (the last night of our trip, which is when it is usually held), would be a better bet, so we sail for Stonington, a charming fishing village on Deer Isle to pick up a crate of freshly caught lobsters.

We spend a delightful hour and a half in Stonington while Capt. Owen does his shopping. He has recommended we visit the Purple Fish Shop on Main Street, where the proprietor will create a bookmark in watercolor of our ship.

Meeting Katherine Olson Kole is a highlight of our short visit and the trip overall. She is an artist and an art teacher, who in a matter of minutes, has painted in the inked outline she has prepared in advance of the Nathaniel Hawthorne, and personalizes it as a bookmark, all for $3.50. She is a wonderful artist, but describes herself as a writer of songs of Maine; her husband usually plays music on guitar as she paints and we wait (unfortunately, he is not there today). She regards her painting as a way of doing her part to preserve the windjammers-it is probably a symbiotic relationship. In fact, she is more than an artist and a writer of songs. She is a keeper of the Maine heritage.

“I like to do things for the boats-and for the people who are trying to keep these jewels of the sea alive.”

Artist Katherine Olson Kole paints a bookmark in the image of Nathaniel Bowditch as we wait in her shop in Stonington (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

While she works on the bookmarks for the seven of us waiting out turn, we chat about life. She has opinions about the lobster pots that blanket certain areas more like pointillism than an occasional dot. “You could practically walk across the bay on the traps.”

She says, “They should have asked the fishermen’s wives when they decided how many permits to sell. They’ve given out too many,” she says. The wives worry that “If you put out twice as many traps, you will catch twice as many lobsters but will deplete the supply.” Apparently, Fishermen’s wives have their own organization. It’s that difference between the short view and the long view.

Leaving her shop, we stop in at the cute little boutiques; there is also the Deer Isle Granite Museum-a reminder that granite has been a big industry here-and stop at a cute little ice cream stand operated by a guy who used to hail from Brooklyn.

When we leave Stonington, the sky is clear and there is a brisk wind. We experience the feeling of heeling-when the ship leans over as it finds the fastest point of sail. We are flying along at about 8 knots, Capt. Owen says.

We sail through the afternoon and come to this amazing little island that has a natural harbor-rocks on either side of a flat sandy “ramp”.

We go ashore in rowboats-a few intrepid ones swim in the cold Maine water-while water is put up to boil over a campfire.

The lobsters boil and when they are finished, Captain Owen spreads them with a flourish, over a bed of kelp we have gathered out of the water. They are served with melted butter and ears of corn.

I have never tasted such sweet, tender lobster-the shells are so soft, you simply tear them with your fingers (the Captain has purposely acquired “shedders” which have soft shells and a very sweet flavor). There are so many, we could have two. Dessert, which completes this festive campout, is S’mores.

It is an idyllic setting with a perfect sunset and a memorable meal.

The campfire is fitting–a windjammer sailing trip is more like camping than a cruising.

MORE OF A VOYAGE THAN A CRUISE

Two of the Maine Windjammers sailing so gracefully into the Penobscot Bay.(Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

Sailing on a windjammer is more of a voyage than a cruise. It is the difference between being a spectator in life and being a participant. It is a special sort of experience that comes from being involved, being a part.

Windjamming is not for everybody-it is very much like camping on water. You are roughing it, but you learn how to do with simpler things and ultimately, enjoy a simple life-the whole notion of traveling by wind, tide and whim. But sailing is not simple, at all; you come away with enormous respect for the skills and physical agility and quick-thinking that is involved.

I must confess that I am not a sailor; I am prone to seasickness. And I don’t like to be sedentary. Yet, I love this experience on the Nathaniel Bowditch-for me, it is a photographer’s dream; I am never seasick and never bored. There is always some interesting scene to frame, some thought to be written in my journal, some conversation to jump in.

Without a barrage of distractions, you would be amazed at how simple things capture your attention and become important, or how you find yourself really focusing on other people-your spouse, your child, or the new friends you are sailing with.

Rustic Digs

Our cabin on the Nathaniel Bowditch windjammer-a historic ship that was originally built in 1922 as a racing yacht and converted to passenger use in the 1970s–is very small and very basic-a bunk bed with wooden slates. The cabin is so small that two people can’t dress at the same time; there are no closets or even a bureau, just a couple of cubbies and hooks-you stow your bag under the bunk (ours had two single bunks but some cabins have a double).

There are glass-filled slats that let light into the cabin-air comes in from the top of the door, and the hatch is just above, so even though the cabin is tiny, you don’t feel shut in or nauseas. At night, a canvass covers the front of the ship, so rain doesn’t come in.

The galley is surprisingly light and airy with beautiful wood paneling and a fabulous cast iron stove as old as the ship. The galley also serves as the cabin for the crew. It has a hatch with glass, and windows and is comfortable to sit in. Many of our meals, though, are eaten on deck. We all pitch in to wash the dishes-a two-dip bucket system with salt water soaping, then fresh water with bleach rinse-that saves water.

There is water and electricity. As Capt. Owen says, “We have plenty to use and none to waste.” He points out that the engine can make electricity but it is noisy and he doesn’t want to operate it unless it is needed; if we use up our supply of water, we have to go in for more.

There are no showers on the Bowditch; a few passengers (and crew) braved the chilly Maine water for a swim and Joy shampoo, but warm rinses can be arranged if the stove has been on. More importantly, there is a “head” that is just outside our cabin and that flushes reliably.

We sleep on board Sunday night, in preparation for our departure on Monday at about 10:30 a.m. We had traveled in by plane during the day-a nine or 10-hour trip cut to a reasonable four hours or so by USAir and Colgan Air, including the change in Boston and a brief stop in Augusta.

Since we have some time after breakfast Monday morning before we leave, I wander from our pier along a beautiful walkway to Rockland’s Main Street to pick up some supplies at the CVS just above the harbor (insect spray and itch medicine; soda and snacks, AA batteries which I find my digital camera consumes at prodigious rates.)

I stop in at the Rockland Post Office on Limerock Avenue and discover that it has an amazing collection of Presidential citations going back to Grant in 1869, through Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt, William Buckley, Cleveland, Harrison, Hayes.

In fact, Rockland, which gets more and more charming each time I visit, has just celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding in 1854 as Lime City (Farnsworth, for which the museum is named, made his money selling the lime).

The Farnsworth Museum is world-famous for its extraordinary collection of Wyeths. Indeed, the Wyeths have a close connection to Rockland-the farm where Andrew painted some of his most famous paintings is nearby; his wife, Betsy, is a founding member of the Island Institute, headquartered on Rockland’s main street, dedicated to preserving islands. The day of our return from our windjammer trip, I visit the Farnsworth Museum and happen upon Andrew Wyeth’s granddaughter leading a tour to describe the “backstage” stories of his paintings. Just another example of the serendipity that makes this whole saga so memorable.

I make sure I am back on board with plenty of time to spare as we make ready to get underway. Captain Owen Dorr invites us to help raise the sails and teaches us the commands: “Haul away.” “Hold that line.” “Drop that line.” Then: “Ready on the peak.” “Hold peak.” “Ready on the throat.” “2-6-heave”

It is so magnificent as we sail out of Rockland harbor-like a collective breath of fresh air and the tingle of the unknown that lay ahead. We pass the breakwater that stretches out from the fabulous Samoset Resort (famous for its golf course) to the Rockland Light at its end, passed the Owl’s Head Lighthouse, where three other windjammers, their sails billowing, make a stunningly picturesque scene passing by as we make our way into the Penobscot Bay (Schooner captains talk to one another, letting each other where the wind is good.)

The waters are calmer here in Penobscot Bay than if we were sailing in the Atlantic Ocean-important because you are very unlikely to get seasick. Also, you sail amid thousands of small islands-which also break the “chop.” It also means you are always within sight of something interesting, so picturesque that I am constantly shooting pictures. I can see why this seascape has been so inspiring for so many painters.

During one stretch of smooth sailing, Capt. Owen pulls out a book that describes the history of the Nathaniel Bowditch.

The historic windjammer Nathaniel Bowditch at sunset, anchored for the evening (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

Originally called Ladonna, the ship was built in 1922 as a racing yacht for Boston lawyer Homer Loving. It was designed by William Hand (who also designed another of the windjammers in the fleet, the Bowdoin) along the lines of a fishing schooner; both ships were built by the Hodgdon Brothers in nearby East Boothbay, Maine. Ladonna won honors for its class in the 1923 Bermuda Race. Then it was sold to a yachtsman in the New York Yacht Club and renamed the Jane Dore.

In World War II, the ship was requisitioned by the Navy to serve on submarine patrol. After the war, a fisherman bought it, took out the masts and installed a wheelhouse and used it to crag Long Island Sound for groundfish. The ship got plain worn out, and was left tied on pilings at Stonington. Connecticut. Then, in the early 1960s, its distinctive spoon bow caught the attention of Bob Douglas, who appreciated its “aristocratic” look, even in the sorry shape it was in. Douglas restored the ship, even scrounging around to find her masts, then sold it to Skip Hawkins who renamed it Joseph W. Hawkins, and took it to Stonington, Maine, to be fitted.

The ship was sold again in 1971 to a descendent of Nathaniel Bowditch (the author of the classic work on navigation, a Salem merchant, and one of America’s first millionaires) and a partner, who rebuilt it and renamed it the Nathaniel Bowditch. Finally, it was bought by Capt. Gil Philbrick and his wife who turned it into a windjammer for passenger cruises. Just a couple of years ago, Capt. Owen Dorr acquired it from the Philbricks.

Capt. Owen repeats was Capt. Philbrick used to say, and what has become his own mantra: “You never really own these historic vessels. You pass your time and try to leave them in better shape than you found them.”

We get a real sense of history as we come through a narrow channel into Popit Harbor on North Haven. There is a giant osprey nest that has actually been on the navigation charts from the 1800s. The nest, now absolutely enormous, is still there after all these years.

It isn’t always smooth sailing. The ship had gotten caught up in the lobster lines on our first day, now, as we are trying to raise the anchor-a true antique, 400 lbs. that is manually hauled up by a chain-we find that it is tangled up in a lobster line, and coming up so that it is “crowning” (coming up upside down which is as serious as a breech birth). This becomes a matter of significant urgency, and we all try to help with the cranking and holding the lines.

The commands and responses commence with a discipline worthy of the Navy. “Standing by.” “Aye.” “2-6 heave.” “Hold.” “Ease away gently.” “All slack.” “Hold burton.” “Belay that.” “Belaid”

Dan, the first mate, stands on the anchor, trying to untangle the chain. The physical strength and dexterity in all these things is amazing, as is the rapid response and instinct to deal with the problem, which has become rather serious.

Then he begins a new series of commands, “2-6 heave.” “Haul it up burton.” “Make this quick.” “Ease your burton.” “Easing.” “Ease your burton.” “Easing.” “All slack.” “All slack.”

Dan, hanging off the side of the boat, has to attach a rope to the anchor, so with his free hand, ties a knot so that he can flip the anchor over.

Meg, who serves as the cook on this voyage, has come up from the galley to add her strength and skill; at the same time she is hauling line, she is giving directions to a passenger who has taken over the meal preparations, to get olive oil for the onions which are simmering on the galley stove.

“Get on that burton�lower,” “Aye.” “Ratchet up the chain.” “Hold.”

Those of us who are not cranking or hauling are all watching, silently, transfixed at the drama of trying to fix the anchor.

Dan uses an iron hook to try to grab the anchor in such a way as to bring it up straight.

“Taking strength.” “Taking strength.” “Haul away.”

The problem is to pull up the anchor so the hook doesn’t smash into the hull. Finally, he has positioned it and the anchor can be pulled up. “Ease Burton.” “All slack.”

The maneuver has taken 45 minutes. We are able to get underway.

Porpoises swim off the starboard, as we pick up speed.

The night before, two young girls have come by the ship pretending to be pirates and extracting a promise that we fire off a cannon the next morning. As we sail by their house, Capt. Owen orders that our cannon be fired.

We sail under Deer Isle Bridge-85 feet high, and the ship to the top mast is 85 feet. Tim quickly climbs the mast to drop the topmast so we just slip under bridge. We pass through Eggomoggin Reach.

I try to retrace where we have sailed on the navigation maps: from Rockland, through Fox Thoroughfare to Isle au Haut (where we docked the first night), then to Stonington on Deer Isle, through a patch of islands below Marshall Island and Swan Island, up the Jericho thoroughfare; we docked at Bear Island for our lobster bake, then through Eggomoggin Bridge.

So far, we have sailed almost to Mount Desert Island where Bar Harbor is, which is the destination for the longer, six to seven day trips, to Summit Sound (the only fjord in the U.S.) and Frenchman’s Bay.

If we would have driven from Rockland to Bar Harbor, it would have taken three hours-instead of three days.

Our last night is spent at Vinal Haven, a crowded cove of incredibly posh ships.

As we are sailing back to Rockland, all of a sudden we hit a patch of fog like a wall. One moment, it is clear sailing, the next, a deep, dank fog and the air has become cold and damp, adding drama (and dimension) to our last hours of our voyage.

Every two minutes, Tim, a deckhand from Philadelphia where he is a graduate student, sitting on the bow, blows a fog horn: one long (five seconds) and two short (two seconds each), telling anyone who might be in that soup that we are a ship under sail, with limited maneuverability is coming, and have right of way.

A ship suddenly bursts out of the fog, giving one long blast-a signal it is under motor. “Boat to starboard,” Tim calls out.

Lauren, who has been such a chipper crewmember, entertains some of us with a knot puzzle to figure out.

Then, almost as suddenly as it had appeared, the fog clears and the sun returns, just as bell rings for lunch: freshly baked dill bread, still warm from the oven; tortellini soup with vegetables in thick chicken broth.

Finally, we spot the Rockland Lighthouse. As we come into Rockland, Capt. Owen says, “That’s Indian for �hot showers.’” (In fact, the Chamber has pay showers available for boaters at the dock.)

As we pose for a picture before we depart the ship and part for our separate ways Captain Owen jokes, “On the first night, you were talking to each other like it was Thursday [the last day].”

Check the Nathaniel Hawthorne website (www.windjammervacation.com for a sailing schedule and rates for 2005 season, which runs May 27-Oct. 10. Two and three-day sails start at $330; four-day sails start at $525; six day sails from $825. Some of the trips are themed, such as a July 9-12, Aug. 7-10 and 10-13, three-day “Kids and Family trip” at $505. Other specialty trips are for the Great Schooner Race, whale watching and music fest.

Getting to the ship was easy: we flew on US Air to Boston and then connected with Colgan Air (a US Air partner) to Rockland Airport, just a short drive from the pier. For those who drive, there is complimentary parking.

If you can, visit the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum (very close to the Airport), with an incredible collection of antique cars and airplanes, and the Owl’s Head Lighthouse, as well as the Farnsworth Museum (andOlson House, where the painting, Christina’s World. was set; see www.farnsworthmuseum.org),Farnsworth Homestead, and the Shore Village Museum (Maine’s Lighthouse Museum) in Rockland.

If you want to stay over in Rockland before or after the cruise, you might try the LimeRock Inn, 96 LimeRock Street, Rockland, ME 04841, 800-LIMEROCK, www.limerockinn.com.

Capt. Owen & Cathie Dorr, 4 Gay Place, Rockland, ME 04841, 207-596-0401, 800-288-4098,info@windjammervacation.com, www.windjammervacation.com.

The Nathaniel Bowditch is one of 14 in the Maine Windjammers Association fleet. For more information on programs, call 800-807 WIND or www.sailmainecoast.com.

For visitor information, contact, the Rockland-Thomaston Chamber of Commerce, Harbor Park, Rockland, ME 04841, 800-562-2529 or 207-596-0376, www.therealmaine.com, email: info@therealmaine.com.
___________________
© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

RCL’S DAZZLING FREEDOM OF THE SEAS:

Biggest, Most Innovative Cruise Ship Afloat Offers Everything & More

By Karen Rubin

It was about 1 a.m. and I was sitting around with my sons, 21 and 17, listening to a singing guitarist at the Bull & Bear on the Royal Promenade of Royal Caribbean Line’s newest phenomenon, Freedom of the Seas.

Mother’s Day had officially ended an hour before, but as I looked at these two young men, I was thinking, “I am the luckiest mother that ever was.”

That night, we had gone from show to show, venue to venue, enjoying music and entertainment together; now we were working our way down the Royal Promenade, trying to different eateries. That day I had watched them tackle RCL’s latest seafaring marvel, the “FlowRider” which simulates riding the surf, a fitting companion to RCL’s signature rock climbing wall, which they scampered up like a “spider”.

At their age and in the frenetic society in which we live, it is harder and harder to find time to be together, especially for a family vacation. But a cruise together creates this perfect environment-you are all self-contained on this vessel, in a kind of fantasyland of “dream come true” activities, food, and every conceivable manner of luxury, but, in Freedom’s case, in a space the size of a small town.

Freedom of the Seas'H20 Zone water playground keeps kids active as they romp in the spray (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Freedom of the Seas, 160,000 gross tons, 15 decks high, 1,112 feet long, 185 feet wide, is now the largest passenger ship ever to sail the seas, overtaking the Queen Mary 2 for the title. It is the first of RCL’s Freedom class ships to be built.

The ship is so long, that if it would be set upright on its bow, it would be taller that the Chrysler building (1,046) and taller than the Eiffel Tower (986 feet); at 185 feet wide, it is wider than the White House is long (168 feet). When measured from the waterline to the top of its funnel, it towers 208 feet tall, about the same as two Statues of Liberty placed head to toe.

It has 15 decks (the wedding chapel, is on Deck 15) and can hold 4,375 guests in its 1,815 guest staterooms, all attended to by a crew of 1,360 (the most of any ship).

Freedom affords the size to really move around, and the space to provide the most incredible array of activities ever assembled on board a passenger vessel. It takes RCL’s slogan, “Get out there,” to new levels.

It is so large, and yet, so cleverly designed that you don’t feel overwhelmed; rather, with all the nooks and crannies and intimate spaces, you feel very cozy.

Freedom of the Seas provides a particularly idyllic atmosphere, taking everything that RCL has found enormously popular and successful with its other ships, now totaling 20 in the fleet.

It also provides an extraordinary level of innovation:

There are so many features that are dazzling like the ice skating rink, which is also the venue for an original ice show that incorporates theatrical lighting, video screens and the Internet. The show was absolutely incredible-one number, in particular, was a living work of art with neon green costumes and blue light; another was like a magic show, with the skater instantly (magically) changing costume to reflect different heritage themes.

David body surfs in Freedom of the Seas' innovative FlowRider® (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

This ship is very literally dazzling-the same quality of the entertainment that incorporates the most incredible lighting effects, is used throughout the ship. You may not notice it, but I was struck by the utterly magnificent design components-the way the staircases are lit from below and change colors; the way the Royal Promenade, this exquisite venue that makes you feel you are in a village square, can change atmosphere with the lighting effects; and literally all through the ship.

The artwork-4,700 pieces in all-is amazing, mostly themed to celebrate nature as well as man’s technological achievements; commissioned pieces are valued at over $8 million. Everywhere you look, there is something fascinating and fanciful.

Keeping with this theme celebrating man’s technological achievement, the three dining rooms-an achievement in the way they are really one dining room, with three tiers-are named for Galileo, Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci.

The shows are amazing productions-the performers are tremendously talented, and the quality of the choreography, costuming, staging and effects is simply amazing.

We were treated to a “taste” of what passengers on the seven-day cruises (Freedom will sail out of Miami on seven-night Western Caribbean itineraries), will experience.

Like the quality shows that Disney and Universal have managed to create, Royal Caribbean has discovered that magical formula for appealing to all generations. Its big-production show, “Once Upon a Time” takes up popular Brothers Grimm fairytales but in such a way as to be absolutely delightful even for a teenager, with pop music and dancing and extremely imaginative staging. During a seven-day cruise, passengers also see the musical “Now You See It” magic show, and Marquee, a medley of performances, in the art-deco-style Arcadia theatre, which seats 1,350 guests (though you wouldn’t know it from its clever layout).

Similarly, the Circus of the Seas parade that takes place down the Royal Promenade most nights (Party Around the World takes place on the first night of every cruise) had a circus theme that would make the most crotchety person smile with delight. Once again, the way they use lighting and all the space-even having a trapeze performer suspended from the ceiling-was awesome.

Eric hangs 10 on Freedom of the Seas' FlowRider® (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

In fact, Freedom really extends the bounds of family-friendly.

The new “H2O Zone” is a virtual waterpark with fanciful sprays from brightly colored sculptures that kids (of any age) scamper through-keeping them active in ways that would never be possible in old-fashioned wading pools. This “aqua environment” also includes a circular current pool and a swimming pool fed by a waterfall. And rather than being at one end of the ship (in the way of keeping young children out of sight), it is more in a middle section, yet well separated from other pool environments. A clever innovation here is Sprinkles-a self-serve frozen yogurt station. There is also an extremely clever Squeeze, a juice bar where they will make you protein shakes or smoothies designed for weight loss or muscle building.

The Adventure Ocean Youth Facility, on Deck 12, has areas for youth programming for guests 3 to 17, plus Fisher-Price Aqua Babies and Aqua Tots interactive classes and Adventure Art by Crayola.

Nearby, there is Challenger’s Arcade, an entertainment area; The Living Room, a teen hangout furnished with TVs, a coffee bar and games.

Families will also enjoy Johnny Rockets, a 1950s themed burger joint, one of several themed dining venues.

Array of Activity

The array of activity on this ship is remarkable: the newest innovation (you wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it), the FlowRider® creates a wave-like water flow of 34,000 gallons per minute within a 32-foot wide by 40-foot long space. You can either body surf, or (with help from the attendant), try to surf, much to the delight of the crowd that watches from all sides.

The Freedom Fitness Center has a PowerBox Ring-an actual boxing ring and another first for the cruise industry-for boxing-related activities in the largest cruise ship gym afloat; Studio B, an onboard skating rink, offers skating lessons and free skating during the day; a full-length basketball court (clever surface and screening to minimize the effects of wind and roll; a nine-hole miniature golf course, golf simulator, paddleball and volleyball.

There is also an enhanced version of its signature rock-climbing wall that was seen for the first time aboard Voyager of the Seas in 1999. This rock-climbing wall is the largest afloat: 43 foot tall by 44 foot wide, with a central spire that adds a whole new dimension. There are routes to the top easy enough for a six-year old.

The live musical production, "Once Upon a Time" will enthrall "children" of all ages (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The active pool area has two pools that are basically rectangular shaped so you could swim laps (as I did) if you wanted to, yet surrounded by a curved area just deep enough to wet your feet. The main pool area features a dedicated sports pool, which is used for team competitions ranging from water volleyball to hilarious synchronized swimming contests.

Another marvel are two cantilevered whirlpools, one on each side of the ship, extending 12 feet out, so you are literally hanging over the water with a bay-window effect, with views down to the ocean 112 feet below, yet sheltered from the wind.

Then there is the Solarium-an adults-only oasis that affords a very quiet place with a jungle theme-for quiet lounging, resting, reading around its own pool (where you can listen to underwater music), or hang about in a hammock sheltered from the wind.

There are pools and whirlpools that are open 24 hours.

Freedom of the Seas, though, has managed to be equally a place for adults as well as families. The Casino, for example, with a fun Roaring 20s theme running through the décor, bustles with 19 gaming tables and 308 slot machines.

Lap of Luxury: the Freedom Day Spa offers a huge range of services, plus novel ones such as acupuncture, teeth whitening and therapeutic stone massage. There are also new “Time for Men” menu and Generation YSpa, a menu of treatments for teenage guests.

Teenagers will get a kick out of the On Air Club, a karaoke venue with state-of-the-art theatrical lighting, video cameras and flat-panel TVs, and a green screen for aspiring music stars to record their own music video.

Entertainment options abound. The absolutely best music on the ship (and the best place for dancing) was a Canadian band, Stingrays, performing in the Egyptian-themed Pharaoh’s Palace, where they offer karaoke; Boleros is the place for live Latin beats, mojitos and caipirinhas.

The Crypt, a wonderfully themed night club, is a rocking place, with a kind of gothic theme effected with odd oil paintings, stained class, gargoyles, a dramatically lighted bar, set on two levels (during our cruise, an hour was set aside, 10 to 11 p.m., for families).

The Circus Parade was a perfect metaphor for the way Freedom of the Seas' entertainment appeals to all ages (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The Viking Crown Lounge, on the top of the ship, offering a sophisticated and subdued environment in which to relax with wine or cocktail, with stunning panoramic views and live music day and night and the Olive or Twist jazz club, featuring martinis and smooth jazz. The Schooner Bar is a cocktail lounge and piano bar where guests were really getting into the “sing-along.”

The Royal Promenade is a remarkable architectural innovation: a way of turning a huge ship into a homey village. Freedom’s Royal Promenade is an entertainment boulevard, 445 feet long (125 feet longer than a football field), with shopping, dining, bars and lounges, an overhanging bridge, and nightly midnight parade. You can come here any time of the day or night and see some kind of activity.

There are marvelous little nooks and crannies: Book Nook, filled with 3,600 books, has the ambience of a rare bookseller’s shop, and offers a café where you can linger over a book and a light snack; Ben & Jerry’s 1950s style ice cream parlor; Vintages is a wine-tasting bar with décor reminiscent of a 1930s stone cottage; Bull and Bear Pub has dark and distressed wooden décor (it looks like it was simply lifted from an old English pub); Sorrento’s pizzeria serves superb Italian pizza and delicacies.

In addition to the marvelous menus served in the regular dining rooms, guests have the option to choose casual buffet selections at the Windjammer café, and Jade, where you can select well-prepared Italian, Thai and Chinese dishes, and sample innovative sushi and exotic beverages like sake, plum wine and Singapore Slings.

There are two specialty restaurants, as well, which provide a more intimate dining experience (you can arrange for nightly activities for the kids and enjoy an evening out): Chops Grille serves marvelous steaks and fresh seafood (the Portobello mushrooms were an incredible appetizer), while Portofino serves classic Italian specialties (you need reservations and there is a $20 surcharge).

We were surprised at the fresh food and fruit selections everywhere (there are racks of fresh fruit at the Solarium, and Squeeze, the juice bar at the H20 Zone, plus low fat and low calorie selections and desserts in the dining room, where you do not have to sacrifice taste or gorgeous presentation. Really, there is no excuse to go off a diet, while still indulging.

Comfortable Cabins

Each voyage on Freedom of the Seas features a Circus parade where trapeze artists perform suspended from the ceiling (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The creature comforts extend to the staterooms: there is new bedding that is absolutely the most comfortable mattress anywhere, 220-thread count cotton blend sheets, and new flat panel TVs.

Freedom of the Seas, offers several different family-focused stateroom categories specially designed to accommodate larger families and groups of friends.

The biggest addition is the 14-person Presidential Family Suite, the largest stateroom the line has offered to date, with 1,215 square feet of interior space and an 810-square-foot outdoor living area. The oversize suite has dual entryways as well as two master bedrooms; sleeping two people each, with 30-inch, flat-panel televisions and en suite bathrooms with bathtubs. Two additional bedrooms accommodate four people each, with convertible twin/queen beds and two Pullmans. Both of these rooms feature a 23-inch, flat-panel television, which also is found in all staterooms ship-wide. The common area includes two additional bathrooms with showers, a spacious living room with a sectional sofa that sleeps two, a card/dining table and an extensive entertainment center, including a 42-inch, plasma TV. Suite guests will be tempted to spend all their time outdoors on the spacious balcony equipped with a whirlpool, wet bar, eight lounge chairs and a 14-person table for dining al fresco.

Freedom of the Seas offers five additional types of extended family accommodations over and above the standard triples and quads. Each category includes twin beds, convertible to a queen bed, as well as additional bunks to accommodate the whole family.

There are four eight-person Royal Family Suites, each with two bedrooms, including a master bedroom with an en suite bathroom with bathtub, a second bathroom with shower, and a living area with a sectional sofa and an entertainment center with a 30-inch, flat-panel TV. Royal Family Suite balconies have four lounge chairs and a dining table for eight. Each of the suites can be expanded to fit 10 people via a connecting door to a neighboring stateroom. (588 square feet with a 234 square foot balcony).

There is one 6-person Accessible Family Stateroom offers 423 sq. ft. of space with a 120 sq. ft. balcony, a curtained-off sleeping alcove with bunk beds, sleeper sofa, an accessible bathroom and shower. Ten 6-person, 293-sq. ft. Family Oceanview Staterooms each have a curtained-off sleeping alcove with bunk beds, sleeper sofa and two or more windows; four 6-person, 355 sq. ft. Promenade Family Staterooms offer a curtained-off sleeping alcove with bunk beds, sleeper sofa, walk-in closet and bathtub, and two windows, each with a window seat, overlooking the Royal Promenade. Two 6-person, 337 sq. ft. Inside Family Staterooms, each with a curtained-off sleeping alcove, sleeper sofa and walk-in closet.

There are also four Family Suites, 588 sq. ft., with a 234-sq ft. balcony, that consists of two bedrooms with twin beds (one room with third and fourth Pullman beds), two bathrooms and a living area with double sofa bed; 10 family staterooms, 293 sq. ft., with two twin beds, sofa and/or Pullman beds, sitting area and private bathroom; and six family staterooms, 300 sq. ft.

Ours was a modest cabin, an inside, regular cabin with two twins (that could have been done as a queen) but with pull-down bunk beds, and yet it was comfortable even for two adults and two grown kids.

This was the inaugural cruise, a chance to experience Freedom of the Seas from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey. It offered just a taste of what the regular cruise would be like, but it was plain that the ship offers as glamorous and sophisticated an experience as you would like, or one that is as fanciful and whimsical and as fun as a theme park.

Freedom of the Seas features an onboard ice skating rink, where a dazzling ice show is performed (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Freedom of the Seas is sailing seven-night Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami, calling in Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and royal Caribbean’s private destination, Labadee, Haiti.

Royal Caribbean International is a global cruise brand currently with 20 ships in service and three under construction. The line also offers unique land-tour vacations in Alaska, Canada and Europe through its cruisetour division. For additional information or to make reservations, visit your travel agent or go to www.royalcaribbean.com or call 800-327-6700.
___________________
© 2006 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com

ENCHANTMENT OF SEAS GETS `EXTREME` MAKEOVER

Bungee Jump, Rock Wall, and Latin Lounge are among new amenities

By Karen Rubin

This lady is looking quite spry after her $60 million “nip and tuck” (or more accurately, an “enhancement” in a strategic place). Enchantment of the Seas returned to cruising after being literally sliced in half, enlarged with a 73-foot long midsection, and welded back together, resulting in a state-of-the-art ship with all the amenities and signature elements that cruise-goers have come to expect from Royal Caribbean International`s fleet.

The new Jump Zone makes Enchantment of the Seas the first ship to have a bungee jump/trampoline (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

This ship now boasts something entirely new, and consistent with the line`s “Get Out There” active-lifestyle approach to cruising: the first-ever “bungee jump/trampoline” Jump Zone at sea. The brand new activity-more challenging than you would expect-complements the “rock climbing” wall that has become the signature feature distinguishing Royal Caribbean ships.

The effect of the reconstruction and renovation of the ship is dazzling and completely pleasing. Enchantment of the Seascertainly achieves Royal Caribbean`s objective: “Delivering the Wow”.

`Delivering the Wow` means going beyond expectations, that our guests leave thinking that something special happened,” RCI President Adam Goldstein tells a group of cruise editors onboard this “cruise-to-nowhere” to experience first-hand the changes on the ship.

“We have taken Enchantment beyond bow-to-stern renovations,” Goldstein says. “We added real estate to add new attractions, activities, and amenities.”

That added real estate means 50 percent more pool area, but it hardly looks cavernous because of the clever way that the area is broken up into intimate spaces, largely because of an architectural design addition of two 75-foot long suspension bridges, supported by dramatic arches, that run along both sides of the top deck, at the middle of the ship.

The new Splash Deck, suspension bridges and arches that grace the expanded pool deck were installed after the "lengthening"of Royal Caribbean`s Enchantment of the Seas (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

One pool was literally cut in half and replaced by two pools-one is large enough to swim laps–plus four whirlpools. Another innovative, new feature is a colorful Splash Deck with 64 jets that spray out water in whimsical patterns to delight kids. Kids can spray each other or create their own fountain effects with a touchpad system; at night, the circular area transforms into a fiber-optic light and water show.

The lengthening also added 151 cabins (including two family staterooms that sleep six), bringing the total capacity to 2,730 guests (2,252 guests double capacity). The cabins have all been refurbished. Our cabin, on Deck 7, had its own balcony (in all, 248 ocean view cabins have balconies); it was very spacious, with a queen-sized bed and a separate living room area, beautifully furnished and comfortable. All the staterooms have private bath, closed-circuit TV, phone, hair driers and individually controlled air-conditioning.

The extra guests meant that the My Fair Lady Dining Room had to be renovated and expanded as well. The dining room now accommodates 1,365 guests per seating, but you would hardly know it because of the way the room is broken up with columns and architectural features and a lovely mezzanine added.

The menu, like so many aspects on the ship, features many healthy lifestyle selections along with more devilish choices. There would be no excuses, though, not to continue a diet and fitness regimen because of a cruise vacation.

Dancers swirl to the live Latin jazz in Boleros Latin Lounge (© 2005 Karen Rubin).

The Enchantment of the Seas now boasts a Boleros Latin Lounge which romances the senses with fabulous live Latin jazz, dancing patterns of colored lights, and amazing Central and South American drink favorites, such as mojitos, caipirinhas and specialty tequilas. The lounge, fitted with comfortable chairs and sofas, also features a spectacular glass ceiling, reminiscent of a Mayan sunburst.

This ship now also has a new Chops Grille, an elegant, 108-seat specialty restaurant that is one of the elements that lets passengers personalize their cruise experience. This traditional steakhouse offers everything from succulent filet mignon to delectable salmon. Side dishes are served family-style for guests to share, while a selection of decadent desserts (like Mississippi Chocolate Mud Pie) complete the meal (reservations are required; a $20 charge applies).

In a similar vein, the popular self-serve Windjammer Cafe has been transformed into the Windjammer Marketplace - with multiple “islands” each featuring dishes from a different region of the world (such as Asian fusion, Mediterranean), as well as a carving station, deli, extensive salad bar and a cook-to-order pasta station, so there are always a marvelous selection to choose from, no matter what your taste, your mood, your diet.

For quick snacks and sweet treats between meals, Enchantment has a new Latte`tudes coffee and ice cream shop, that serves up espresso drinks from Seattle`s Best Coffee and creative flavors of Ben & Jerry`s.

The lengthening also produced a refurbished 100-seat conference center with state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment. This is in addition to the charming 870-seat Orpheum Theater where we saw some splendid shows with impressive staging, costuming and lighting (we particularly liked the cozy sofas at the back of the theater).

The Enchantment Day Spa was also expanded, with five additional treatment rooms, for a total of 13, including two couples` massage rooms, and services such as a teeth whitening station (people find they have the time to do things on the ship that they don`t have time for in their work-a-day life). There are expanded offerings in fitness, also-even kickboxing-so that guests can continue their fitness routine. And for those who don`t want to do their exercise inside the fitness room (even though a glass wall lets you work out while gazing out to the ocean), there is a new outdoor fitness course with four stations along the running track.

The amenities, attractions, activities cater to active adults, families with children, multi-generational families, groups of family and friends traveling together, and corporate and special interest groups, as well.

For example, there are places carved out-the Roman-themed Solarium, where the third pool is (the retractable glass roof and windows make this ideal in any weather), is for adults 18 and over and is one of the most restful places on the ship; other places on the ship are “teen-only”, like a new Fuel disco and a living-room style lounge; while others are geared for tots, like the new spray pool.

One of the “adult-only” areas is the Casino Royale - and this has been expanded, as well, with more slot machines. There is also an intriguing computer-generated “virtual” dealer at completely computerized poker and black-jack tables, in addition to more conventional tables with actual dealers.

While the teens are in the “Fuel” disco, adults can enjoy the Viking Crown Lounge, at the highest point of the ship on Deck 11, with incredible 360-degree views through ceiling-to-floor windows that let you gaze at the beautifully lighted ship and the ocean below, or the Spotlight Lounge. There are also wonderful shops in an expanded shopping area and an Internet Lounge.

Youth & Family Programs

In addition to offering supervised activity programs for children from 3 to 17 years old, Royal Caribbean has a new partnership with Fisher-Price that lets parents and children from six months to three years old play with toys together during a daily, 45-minute playgroup. The program is designed to introduce tots to new skills and parents to new tools to incorporate skill-building into playtime. However, an added benefit is that families get to meet each other and can choose to spend more time together during the cruise.

The new Fisher-Price program, offered at no extra charge and hosted by specially trained youth staff, is age-appropriate: Aqua Babies is for parents with children six to 18 months old, offering six themed sessions, each designed to enhance physical development and problem-solving skills through active and imaginative play. Other sessions incorporate music as a means to help the baby make new discoveries. The six Aqua Tots sessions encourage toddlers 18 months to three years old to explore their expanding world through play.

Besides a special newsletter for families, there is also new “Fisher Price TV”–age-appropriate programming that comes into the staterooms on the RCI in-room television.

RCI has cultivated a reputation for its youth activity programs that typically have “edutainment” focus. Supervised children`s programs are centered in Adventure Ocean, a pleasant, sunny room but the programs take the children to other parts of the ship, as well. The minimum age is 3 and children must be toilet trained.

The supervised programs are offered at no charge and are segmented by age group: Aquanauts are 3-5; Explorers are 6-8; Voyagers are 9-11; Navigators are 12-14 and Guests are 15-17. When the ship is at sea, supervised activities for 3-11 year olds are offered in three roughly three-hour segments from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; when in port, the programs are offered 30 minutes prior to first shore excursion until 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. Supervised teen activities for 12-14 year olds vary during the day but are offered 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. nightly. For 15-17 year olds, programs vary by day but are offered from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. nightly.

Some of the more innovative “edutainment” programs include Adventure Science, conducted by specially trained science staff. The kids get to do hands-on experiments, such as Mystery of the Motion of the Ocean, Fossil Fever, and Thunder Races. There are also Adventure Art by Crayola (another partnership), where art projects are offered that relate to the cruise destination`s history, traditions, aquatic habitats and animals.

The kids are further motivated to participate because they can win Adventure Ocean Coupons that can be redeemed for gifts.

Baby-sitting services are also available: group sitting is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the Adventure Ocean at $5/hour per child (kids have to be 3 years old and toilet trained); additionally, there is in-cabin sitting for children from six-months old at $8 per hour for up to two children (this has to be booked at least 24 hours in advance).

Special Needs

Royal Caribbean has special access coordinators available to assist vacation planning for guests with special needs. The Enchantment has 20 cabins that are wheelchair accessible. Accommodations can also be made for guests requiring oxygen therapy, dialysis and most special diets. To request special assistance, call 800-722-5472, ext. 34492.

Stretching the Ship

The "lengthening"of Enchantment of the Seas used new technology to install a 73-foot midsection; the feat was accomplished in an unprecedented 31 days (photo by Ruud van Leeuwen).

You have to be awed, though, by what was accomplished when Enchantment was lengthened by 73-feet-the fourth of RCI`s ships to be lengthened-in a record time of 31 days. It is the largest cruise ship ever to be lengthened, and was an extraordinary feat of engineering and round-the-clock effort of 850 workmen.

The ultimate maritime makeover capitalized on an innovative new procedure-requiring that the ship be taken to dry dock.

Royal Caribbean partnered with Aker Finnayrs of Finland, the shipyard that originally built Enchantment of the Seas in 1995-6, to design and build the new midsection. The 2,939-ton mid-body section was then transported by barge 1,430 miles to Keppel Verolme Shipyard in Rotterdam, the Netherlands–the only yard big enough to handle the dry-dock installation. The size of Keppel Verolme`s dry-dock bay and new technology allowed for a more advanced and faster lengthening process than used when the line stretched its last ship, Nordic Prince, 25 years ago.

It took workers six days to split the ship, cutting through more than 1,969 linear feet of steel with gas and oxygen torches and circular saws. Once severed, the ship`s bow and aft sections were positioned with skids and 16 hydraulic jacks, and the 2,939-ton mid-body section was guided into place with a laser-alignment system.

The 11,315-ton bow section slid first; the mid-body then was moved into alignment and pushed back to touch the ship`s aft section. The bow section then was moved back into place. Finally, workmen reconnected the ship-a painstaking, two-week job that involved welding the steel exterior and reattaching nearly 1,300 individual cables, pipes and ducts on each end of the mid-body. In all, 22,000 connections had to be right. (The ship had to undergo stringent testing by the U.S. Coast Guard before it was declared seaworthy, and our “cruise to no-where” was further evidence that the ship is ship-shape.)

Because RCL wanted to be able to sail the ship through the Panama Canal-and the lengthening would have made it a tad too long-the problem was solved with a hinged bow-so that, when the ship will operate through the Panama Canal (it doesn`t now), it will be able to raise up the bow so the length is right.

After all of this, the only evidence of the $60 million “nip and tuck” that can be found is a tiny, quarter-inch “scar” (to find it, you can go up to Deck 10, where the suspension bridge starts, and look for the red box and light holder, and right in between, is a tiny scar). “Plastic surgeons can`t do any better,” joked Adam Goldstein, RCI`s President. “It`s unbelievable for project of this size that such a little mark.”

The end-product is a ship that is 989 feet long, 105.6 feet wide and 81,500 gross tons. Amazingly, because of the redesigned shape and the use of new laminates at the ship`s bottom, the increased size did not add to its fuel consumption (a factor in keeping cruise fares low).

Enchantment of the Seas is sailing this summer on a series of cruises to Canada/New England from Cape Liberty, NJ, Philadelphia (July 19-Aug. 21) and Boston (Sept. 4-25). The ship then returns to Fort Lauderdale in October to resume four and five-night Caribbean itineraries.

Royal Caribbean International is a global cruise vacation company with 19 ships in service and two more under construction. Contact your travel agent or Royal Caribbean at 800-327-6700, www.royalcaribbean.com
___________________
© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.