Things to do at America’s favorite Ballparks

ImageEvery summer tens of thousands make their way to their favorite ballpark every day to take in a few hours of America’s pastime. Whether you’re a season-ticket holder or just a tourist visiting for the weekend, the game itself often turns out to be just a good excuse to find some fun things to do for the day. So with that in mind, here’s a list of some of the most popular ballparks in Major League Baseball, and what to do before, during, or after the game.

 

 

Wrigley Field- Chicago Cubs

Located in ‘The Windy City’, the beloved Cubs of Chicago have been searching for that elusive World Series visit since the 1945 “Curse of Billy the Goat”. Fans of the Cubs annually pack ivy-covered Wrigley Field to cheer on their “Cubbies”. Many visitors to theImage area head to Michigan Avenue to do a little shopping at what seems to be every imaginable retail store, as well as take in the numerous restaurants and taverns. For those looking for some culture, a stop at the Field Museum of Natural History or the nearby Art Institute is a must. Both are considered as one of the best in the country. If you’re looking for breath-taking views, a trip to the 462-foot high Tribune Tower or the cloud-shattering 1,451-foot Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) are sure to offer the perfect cityscape views. Of course no visit to Chicago is complete without a deep-dish pizza at the original Pizza Uno restaurant located on Chicago’s North side.

Yankee Stadium- New York Yankees

Located in the Bronx of New York City, the 27-time World Series champion Yankees are not only a fan favorite in every city they visit Imageduring the season, but they more or less own “The Big Apple” when it comes to baseball. Fans visiting the new Yankee Stadium have a variety of things to do in the area. Within minutes of the stadium is the famous Bronx Zoo. This 250-plus acre animal sanctuary contains a variety of birds, monkeys, and other wildlife. Many say that there is so much to do at the Bronx Zoo that it can’t be seen in just one day. The New York Botanical Garden is also located in the Bronx. Like the zoo, the Botanical Garden is also situated on 250 acres of lush NY real estate. Included on the floral site are 50 unique gardens, an ornamental Victorian-style greenhouse, and several family-friendly activities and events. If you’re looking for a place to grab a bite to eat or pre-game beer, look no further than Stan’s Sports Bar or The Dugout located within steps of the stadium for some traditional ballpark grub. Leaning a little toward the Italian side? Be sure to visit Giovanni’s for great pizza and Italian food. A restaurant known as The Feeding is where foodies head to for that Caribbean-vibe cuisine. Becoming more and more popular on a daily basis, The Feeding is the new “It” place around the ballpark. Inside the new Yankee Stadium sits a variety of restaurants and food courts offering a selection of food including BBQ, cheese steaks, and of course classic Nathan’s hotdogs and Carvel ice cream treats.

AT&T Park- San Francisco Giants

Out on the west coast sits San Francisco, California. For years this northern California city has long been known as a favorite place to travel to, as well as for its faithful sports fans. Built in the year 2000, replacing the former classic confines known as Candlestick Park,Image AT&T Park served as a breath of fresh air to the Bay Area. The Giants paid  tribute to some of its great former players by building the stadium on Willie Mays Plaza, and along the waterfront now referred to as McCovey Cove, in honor of long-time team favorite Willie McCovey. AT&T Park is located in what is known as the South Beach area of San Francisco. Being situated on the San Francisco Bay, though the days can be beautiful and warm, the nights quite often will get down-right chilly, so be sure to bring a jacket or sweatshirt to any evening game. Across from the ballpark is a fan-favorite hotspot called MoMo’s. Fans seem like to make it a pre-game and post-game stop. In fact some have been known for stopping there for pre-game fun, and never making it to the game itself! While at AT&T Park everyone insists that you don’t pass up the garlic fries or tomato mozzarella sticks. Being sold throughout the park, these fries and cheese sticks have become a stadium staple because of their deliciousness. Some fans making their way to and from the game along Market Street will often stop off at the SF landmark, Red’s Java House for a burger and beverage. Along Market Street and around the China Basin marina sit many charming stores selling everything “San Francisco”. Of course getting around this Pacific Coast city can be an experience in itself. Whether you take the public transportation known as the BART, hop a trolley car, or hail a cab, getting around San Francisco is a breeze.

Citizens Bank Park- Philadelphia Phillies

ImageThe “City of Brotherly Love” is known for its significance in American history, being home to the famous movie-underdog Rocky Balboa, and also its no-holds-barred sports fans.  Through the beginning of this new century the baseball team in Philadelphia known as the Phillies has seen tremendous success on and off the field. In 2012 the team was ranked #1 in all of MLB, with attendance numbers well over 3 million. While the stadium offers up Philadelphia food favorites such as cheesesteaks and hoagies, the area around CBP is as diversified as the population. In Philly the baseball stadium is located in a complex with other stadiums like Lincoln Financial Field (home of the NFL- Eagles) and the Wells Fargo Center (home of the NBA- Sixers and NHL- Flyers). All of these are located in the heart of the city with parks, museums, and shopping galore seemingly surrounding the perimeter. Of course a trip to historic Philadelphia wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Liberty Bell, Freedom Hall, and Congress Hall. Located within the Independence National Historical Park area of the city sits nearly 20 blocks of historic neighborhoods, buildings, and monuments commemorating the historical significance of Philadelphia. Along the waterfront is the Tweeter Center and Navy Yard. The Tweeter Center on the Waterfront is an outdoor concert venue seating over 20,000 during the warm months of the baseball season. Down at the city’s Navy Yard progress meets history as newly renovated factories and businesses intermingle with quaint shops, restaurants, and parks through beautifully landscaped streets.

Busch Stadium- St. Louis Cardinals

Like the St. Louis Gateway Arch welcomes travelers into the Midwest, the new Busch Stadium welcomes baseball fans of all ages to the Home of the Cardinals. Built in 2006, Busch Stadium has played host to two World Series championship titles since its openingImage (2006 & 2011). Like most modern U.S. cities, St. Louis offers some incredible eating experiences. There is a section of the city known as “The Hill” that serves up some of finest Italian food in St. Louis. Another famous snack landmark in the city is Ted Drewes, which is where thousands swear you’ll find the finest frozen custard anywhere. Around Busch Stadium, Cardinal fans can find friendly pubs and city-famous thin crust pizza parlors. For visitors looking to experience the cool neighborhood, urban-vibe of St. Louis, a day at the Delmar Loop will offer up cool boutique shops, hip restaurants and cafes, and even a St. Louis celebrity themed Walk of Fame. There is fun for all ages that can be found in and around the city, ranging from the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park and St. Louis Zoo for the kids to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour and nightlife excitement found at the 42-acre Westport Plaza. Not only do the Cardinals have a winning tradition, but the city of St. Louis proves it knows how to do “fun” right.

Fenway Park- Boston Redsox

For many years, actually many generations, fans of the Boston Redsox baseball club had wondered if they too had been cursed, like the Chicago Cubs. Year after year the spring would offer hope, only to find the autumn cold bring expected misery to the faithful fans Imageof the Redsox. However in 2004 the “Curse of the Bambino” was broken with Boston’s first World Series victory in 86 years. Through all of the ups and downs of the Redsox drama, one thing had always been true- Redsox fans are arguably the most loyal in all of baseball. Getting from historic Quincy Market to the city’s Little Italy called The North End, or from the shopping district of Copley Square to the Home of the Redsox along Yawkey Way, traveling around Boston is easy with the use of the public transportation system known as the “T”. When at Fenway Park, baseball memorabilia shops, restaurants, and bars surround the 101 year old ballpark. Fan favorite watering holes include GameOn, the Boston Beerworks, and the Cask n’ Flagon. All three, and many more, are within a ground-rule double of Fenway Park. If you feel the need to get even closer than that then perhaps the Redsox version of tailgating is more your fancy. Every game day a section of street is blocked off along Yawkey Way. It is here that vendors serve up cold beer, hot pretzels and everything that makes you a Redsox fan for a day. Inside the relic of a stadium fans will see the famous Pesky’s Pole down the right field line and the Green Monster situated in left field. Not so widely known is a place built into the Green Monster known as the Bleacher Bar. Visitors to the Bleacher Bar will experience a ground-level view of the playing field from left field with a glass window that allows them to see out without players being able to see in.

Camden Yards- Baltimore Orioles

Though it’s been many years since the glory days of the 1970s Baltimore Orioles, the fan base for this mid-Atlantic region baseball club is as strong as ever. In 1992 the Baltimore Orioles moved out of their dated Memorial Park and into their new home. With that the team and the park rejuvenated the entire City of Baltimore. Located a couple blocks from Baltimore’s tourist-jewel known as the InnerImage Harbor, the stadium draws hoards of people into this revitalized section of the city. It is here that most visitors to Baltimore gravitate to. With dozens of restaurants and taverns, a variety of stores, and more entertainment than one could handle in a week, the Inner Harbor is really the only place you may need to visit around the ballpark. Max’s, Sliders, and Pickle’s Pub are just three hot spots for those looking for a fun pre-game meal. All three are located right around the stadium. Though Babe Ruth’s childhood home is no longer in its original spot (which is where left field of Camden Yards is now), a stop by the Babe Ruth Museum on Emory Street is definitely encouraged. Just follow the 60 baseballs painted on the sidewalk from the ballpark to the museum. Just a few blocks from Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor are a couple other cool areas known as Fell’s Point and Federal Hill. Both neighborhoods are lined with good food and fun libations.

Comerica Park- Detroit Tigers

Like so many of the new ballparks around the country, Comerica Park too has been the beacon to shed a new, fresh light on what Imagewas a dying urban area. In the year 2000 Tiger fans were shown that there can be so much more to do than just watch a game when you head to the ballpark. A ferris wheel that has you riding in baseballs and a merry-go-round that has replaced the decorated horses with yes, you guessed it, ‘Tigers’ are just two things that welcome visitors to Comerica Park. The state-of-the-art baseball stadium blends the modern conveniences of today with the yesteryear feel of decades ago. Located outside the Comerica Park area tourists should be sure to swing by the Henry Ford Museum to see where the American automobile began, the Renaissance Center which is full of shopping and restaurants, and the Hart Plaza to take in unique works of art as well as live entertainment.

Progressive Field- Cleveland Indians

For what used to be referred to as “The Mistake by the Lake”, the City of Cleveland has certainly reversed its fortunes in a way like no other city has ever done before. Since 1992 Progressive Field has been the home field for the Indians’ baseball club. Attendance to games has steadily risen, tourists frequent all that Cleveland has to offer, and with that, Cleveland continues to offer more. For thoseImage taking in a game with “The Tribe” for an afternoon or evening there are several establishments around Progressive Field that fans should consider. One of these spots is The Winking Lizard Tavern. Located just a block from the stadium, “The Lizard” is famous for its burgers and wings, and of course ice cold beer. Irish stew, fish n’ chips, and Guinness on tap are the order of the day at Flannery’s Irish Pub. Only a couple blocks from the ballpark, this classic Irish pub is a perfect stop anytime, game or no game. Three blocks from Progressive Field fans can enjoy the taste of Mexico at the Zocolo Mexican Grill. Cold Coronas, tangy burritos, and fish tacos can be enjoyed before or after any game. An area known as “The Avenue” is located right near the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in the Public Square district of Cleveland. The Avenue is a selection of shopping experiences, restaurants, hotels and movies all in one location. And yes, the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame is where everyone that comes to Cleveland must visit at least once. This museum of hits and superstars is full of musical memories that seem to offer up something new every time a person visits.

Dodger Stadium- Los Angeles Dodgers

In Southern California’s City of Angels, the LA Dodgers have easily been the most-admired and recognized west coast team since they relocated there from Brooklyn in the 1958. They play in Dodger Stadium which is located in an area of Los Angeles referred to Imageas Chavez Ravine. It is in this part of the world that the sun seems to shine every day, the palm trees sway in the Santa Anna breezes, and the Dodger faithful come out every summer and cheer on their team. Though getting around LA may not be as easy as the larger, older, east coast cities, it isn’t too bad if you have a plan. Located about a half-mile away from the stadium sits the world-famous Chinatown. With authentic shops and restaurants, LA’s Chinatown has a little something for everyone. Within a mile of Dodger Stadium is the beautiful Olvera Street. Set up in the mid-1900s as a tribute LA’s Mexican heritage, Olvera Street serves as an oasis in the middle of a bustling city with Mexican restaurants and shops. Finally, sitting just off Sunset Blvd. is Elysian Park. With over 600 acres of picnic grounds and hiking trails, visitors to Dodger Stadium can find a way to get away from it all after a tough home team loss. Around the ballpark are several restaurants and sports bars that fans regularly visit. Some favorites include Two Boots, where east coasters gather to reminisce about life along the Atlantic, and The Park, which is known for its dishes like wild salmon or grilled polenta. Dodger Stadium itself is a microcosm of the diversity that exists in the LA area. Food at the stadium ranges from sushi to hot dogs, and cold beer to mixed drinks and wine.

I’m quite sure there will be some that wished I had mentioned their favorite team and ballpark, but in all honesty it was nearly Imageimpossible to come up with the ten I’ve highlighted. Ask another writer to come up with their ten, and they would likely end up listing five or six different places than mine. The bottom line is simple. Get out to a major League Baseball city this summer and experience not only the game, but the energy around the area. Chances are that each subsequent city you visit will become your ‘new favorite’ to check out America’s pastime.

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Wine-ing Your Way Through the Finger Lakes

ImageFor centuries some of the world’s best wines have been found throughout Europe and Australia. And for the last hundred years the United States’ wine mecca has been considered to be California’s Napa Valley. But tucked away in the middle of New York State is a series of lakes dating back to the Ice Age. Located about two hours northwest from New York City and three hours southeast from Toronto, Canada sits the magnificent Finger Lakes. With their warmImage summers and cool falls, these lakes are prime locations for the wine-making business. Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, and Keuka Lake are three of the most popular and successful of the Finger Lakes when it comes to wine tasting fun.

The easternmost of the Finger Lakes is Cayuga Lake. Stretching from the city of Seneca Falls to the north and Ithaca to the south, the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is packed with numerous and unique wineries, restaurants, and accommodations. One of my favorite places when I visit the area wineries is ironically the Amish-run Sauter’s Market in Seneca Falls. It’s what I refer to Imageas an “Amish WalMart”. From freshly baked pies to newly constructed storage sheds and gazebos, about everything Amish can be found at Sauter’s. Seneca Falls is also the location of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Located in the center of town, it is here that nearly 100 women gathered in 1848 for the First Women’s Rights Convention. The city of Ithaca is the quintessential “College Town” with the two prestigious schools of Ithaca College and Cornell University. And with colleges comes college students; and with college students comes great restaurants, bars and “extra curricular fun”! The area’s most popular location is a gathering place known as the Ithaca Commons. This two-block by three-block renovated area, located in the center of the city has dozens of restaurants and taverns for locals and visitors to frequent. The city was recognized when Bon Appetite magazine named Ithaca “one of the best ‘foodiest’ cities in America” (with populations under 250,000). A couple of my “must visit” places when I visit Ithaca is Collegetown Bagels and the Ithaca Bakery. CTB (Collegetown Bagels) is a sandwich shop thatImage has a very hip, cool college vibe. With a few locations throughout in the city, my favorite is located at the entrance of Cornell University. (ps: I recommend their club sandwich on a wheat bagel). When it comes to wineries, some of the most popular are located on the west side of Cayuga Lake. Sister wineries Goose Watch and Swedish Hill are found on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail off Route 89. Other wineries on the trail with industry awards and acclaim are Hosmer, Sheldrake Point, Lucas, Knapp and Thirsty Owl. Several of the wineries offer lunch and dinner options throughout the year. With regards to lodging, accommodations can be found from quaint Bed & Breakfast inns to corporate hotel chains.

To the west of Cayuga Lake sits the next Finger Lake known as Seneca Lake. Two of my favorite wineries are found along the east side of the lake. Three Brothers and Hazlitt are wineries that not only make great tasting and good-selling wines, but they also have the new millenium marketing techniques down pretty well too. Catering to potential long-time customers, both Three Brothers and Hazlitt try their best to make your visit to their wineries a memorable experience. At Three Brothers, guests will find three wineries and a Imagebrewery located on the vino compound. Each of the wineries aim to please the various tastes of its customers. Whether you visit the Stoney Lonesome, Passion Feet, or Bagg Dare winery, fun, relaxation, and award-winning wines await you. Also located at Three Brothers is the War Horse Brewing Company. Famous for its industry-first Riesling Ale, this brewery has several ales and lagers, including the best tasting root beer I’ve ever had! Over at the Hazlitt 1852 Winery they have taken the stuffy stereotype of wine and have mainstreamed it to make it more fun and accessible. From the Red Cat wine chant to jello shots and slushies, turns out a visit to Hazlitt is more than just swirling and sipping wine. With Seneca Lake running from the city of Geneva at the north end of the lake to Watkins Glen nestled at the southern end, touring between Cayuga and Seneca is filled with dozens of wineries, many with restaurants.

Along the western shore of Seneca Lake, up and down the scenic Route 14, sit some of finest wineries, restaurants and overnight accommodations found throughout the Finger Lakes. One of the nicest locations on the Seneca Lake Wine Tour is the Glenora Wine Cellars, the Inn at Glenora, and the award-winning Veraisons Restaurant. Located aboutImage two-thirds the way down the western side of the lake, Glenora has all the bases covered! (I actually spent several minutes trying to come up with a wine or grape association to that sentence, but “all the bases covered” was the best I could do). Anyways, the Inn at Glenora offers several style of rooms; from the Vitner’s Guestrooms all of which face east and overlook the vineyards and Seneca Lake to the Vineyard Cottage which has two bedrooms placed within the vineyards below the the Inn. Not only do all rooms at Glenora contain a spectacular view, but they also have world- famous Stickley furniture adorning all of the rooms. Veraisons Restaurant has seasonal seating on its spacious deck and seating for over one-hundred inside with its stunning woodwork and awe-inspiring stone fireplace. Chef Orlando is on hand in the kitchen preparing memorable meals like NY Rohan Duck to Pan Roasted Faroe Island Salmon. Guests to the Inn are presented with a bottle of wine from their winery, along with guest tasting passes tat can be used during their stay. With just one stay at Glenora it’s no wonder that most sum up their experience as “Spectacular”.

When it comes to tasting the wine, other recommended stops along Route 14 include the Fox Run, Fulkerson, Anthony Road, Torrey Ridge, Billsboro, and Belhurst wineries. Each location has their own specialty, theme, and unique taste. From Fulkerson’s spacious and warm tasting area to Anthony Road’s vino experts, like Mike & Margo to make your visit an enjoyable one, each winery along Seneca Lake’s western side will surely appeal to any level of wine lover.

The third of the wine-filled Finger Lakes is Keuka Lake. Boasting a Baker’s Dozen of wineries from Hammondsport to PennYan, Keuka Lake is the smallest and quietest of the three “wine lakes”. But don’t let that fool you. The region is extremely resourceful at planning fImageun seasonal events throughout the year. With cottage rentals, privately-run restaurants, and antique stores situated around the lake, Keuka Lake has something for everyone in a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. When it comes to the wineries of Keuka Lake, the Bully Hill, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Heron Hill, Keuka Spring, and Ravines wineries are some of that your your place on your “trail” list.

So whether you’re looking for a breath of fresh air on your next getaway or the newest Riesling or a fun seasonal wine for the holidays, consider New York’s Finger Lakes Wine Country. The lakes of Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka, and the variety of communities around them, offer up some of the best-tasting wines, provide some unique and elegant accommodations, and provide wide-ranging cuisines and seasonal events for visitors from everywhere. For more information or travel planning throughout the Finger Lakes check out http://www.VisitFingerLakes.com.

Winter Wonderland: Lake Placid

ImageAs much of the country settles into another autumn, and the ability to enjoy the outdoors for activities becomes slimmer (unless of course you’re willing to fly south), travelers look for places that embrace the cooler temperatures. So with that in mind, let me introduce you to a spectacular place situated in the northern part of New York State known as the charming and history-filled village of Lake Placid. This jewel of a town is the perfect location for a weekend getaway orImage a longer vacation destination.

Regardless the season, Lake Placid has something for just about everyone. A visit to the Lake Placid shopping district is a must. This mile long strip in the quaint little town offers great restaurants, unique gift shops, and even outlet stores like the Gap, Bass, and Izod. I have found that starting my shopping days with my wife, Rachel; always seems easier by visiting the Goose Watch & Swedish Hill wineries first. A sample here and there pleasantly takes the chill off of the winter air and the price tags seem a little less damaging.

ImageIf skiing is for you, Lake Placid is perhaps the place to be east of the Rockies. Just a few minutes from town sits the world-famous Whiteface Mountain. Complete with dozens of trails, Whiteface has trails to fit every level of skier. For those looking for something different, maybe a visit to the Olympic Ice Stadium, where the USA hockey team made history in the 1980 Olympics with the “Miracle on Ice”, or a stop at the U.S. National Ski Jump and Bobsled courses can be added to your itinerary.

Throughout the holiday months of November, December and January a wide variety of fairs and sporting events, as well as visual & performing arts dot the weekly calendar in Lake Placid. November begins with the Shakespeare classic ‘Othello’ at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts (LPCA). During the first week of November the village takes on an international flair when it hosts the Four Nations Women’s Hockey Tournament, with the American team welcoming teams from Sweden, Finland, and Canada. During Thanksgiving Week, The Big Little Art Show kicks off in Lake Placid at the Center for the Arts. The last weekend of November has former Saturday Night Live regular Julia Sweeney and Jill Sobules starring in the highly acclaimed ‘Jill & Julia Show’, filled with hilarious monologues and skits, while the National Theater of Great Britain also brings its ‘National Theater Live: 50 years’ presentation to the LPCA as well.

In December, the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic combined bobsled, luge and skeleton track plays host to the North American CupImage Championship for bobsled and skeleton racing during the first week of the month. For first-time visitors to the sport, the 21 high-speed curves of the world class layout will surely thrill and mesmerize. Rounding out the first week of December is the annual Holiday Village Stroll. This year running from December 6-8th, the ‘Holiday Stroll’ consists of the Jingle Bell run/walk around Lake Placid’s Mirror Lake, free holiday movies at the LPCA, ‘Main Street Tastings’ food fest from the area’s favorite restaurants, the Nutcracker Ballet performance, visits from Santa Claus throughout the weekend, all capped off with the Christmas tree and yule log lighting on Saturday evening. A free matinee showing of The Polar Express at the historic Palace Theater and the always-popular Christmas candy-house making activity at the Generations Restaurant round out the weekend on Sunday afternoon. Throughout the holiday season, carolers will be heard up and down Main Street, while public skating will be available at the Olympic Center’s 1932 rink. During the middle of the month adults will get enjoy the ‘Santaland Diaries’ which promises to spread holiday cheer at the LPCA.

ImageTo round out the holidays Lake Placid rings in the New Year beginning on New Year’s Eve with the annual family-friendly event ‘Skating in the New Year’ at the Olympic Oval. Dinner specials and a variety of parties are also held at various resorts and restaurants in and around Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain. Of course perhaps a trip to the Lake Placid region wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Santa’s Workshop located at the base of Whiteface Mountain.

From the immaculate Whiteface Lodge to the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, Lake Placid’s accommodations are as varied as the December weather can be. When I stay in Lake Placid it is usually at The Whiteface Lodge. At first The Whiteface Lodge’s idea of elegance and rustic charm seem to be contradictory, but within minutes of checking in it’s easy to realize that The Whiteface Lodge is truly a unique experience. From itsImage superb restaurant, to its indoor/outdoor heated pool, The Whiteface Lodge seems to have every detail covered. This log-cabin style resort has many comfortable sitting areas and bars situated throughout its main area. The resort’s fun is seemingly limitless, with its own movie theatre and ice cream parlor operating three-times daily, a two-lane bowling alley, and a beautiful game room, that includes shuffle board, billiards, and darts. Outside, the year-round ice skating rink is breath-taking, as it sits in the shadow of Whiteface Mountain. Cross-country skiing is also available upon request.

Regardless of where or how long you decide to stay, a getaway to Lake Placid is truly a Winter Wonderland experience during the holidays. From tasty cuisine and beverages to warm your insides, to the seemingly limitless winter activities of the area, the region of Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain will definitely become one of your favorite winter getaways for years to come.

10 Great Things to do at Disney World (Outside the Parks)

Most visitors to Walt Disney World feel that they must take in the four theme parks when vacationing in Central Florida’s wonderland. And for those visiting for the first time, a Park Hopper to the parks is a must. However, for those that visit Walt Disney World on an annual basis, and are looking for a change of pace on things to do, WDW is packed with sights and sounds located outside the four theme parks. To help you make your next visit a little more organized, here are ten things that you must do when visiting the Walt Disney World resort area, without ever stepping a foot inside any of the parks.

1- Dining at Downtown Disney. Divided into three sections, this area of Disney World has fun for every member of the family. The Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and West End are packed with dining, entertainment, and shopping galore. Start your day with lunch at the Earl of Sandwich. This gourmet sandwich and salad shop has perhaps the best meal you can get for the money. At around $6.00 lunch at Disney doesn’t get much better.  From the Earl Club to the Hawaiian BBQ, their sandwiches are made to order on fantastic artisan breads. Eat in or enjoy the Florida warmth outside, the Earl of Sandwich will turn out to be a place that you’ll come back to again and again. There’s also the Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Offering up tasty chocolate samples, gift bags of their confections, and out-of-this-world ice cream sundaes, the Ghirardelli shop has something special about it (without the ears). C’mon, live a little! Let yourself splurge on a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae that will make all other sundaes seem like just another bowl of ice cream. Perhaps my favorite place at Downtown Disney is Paradiso 37. This trendy restaurant/bar serves up some fantastic North and South American fare in a very relaxed atmosphere. Whether you decide to dine in or along DD’s waterfront, you will undoubtedly experience Paradiso 37′s cool vibe. One of the favorite beverages of many patrons (including me) is something the bartenders like to call a “Mangled Margarita”. Now I don’t know exactly what is contained in this magical drink, but after a couple you will be ready to take on Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tinkerbell all in one swoop. From its 24-theater AMC movieplex and Gloria Estefan’s Cuban-flare restaurant, Bongo’s, to Planet Hollywood and The World of Disney megastore, Downtown Disney could easily be a daily stop during your Disney World vacation.

2- The Boardwalk. Located in Disney’s EPCOT resort area, the Boardwalk Resort and Spa is not only a wonderful resort, but is also home to an authentic Atlantic Ocean seaside boardwalk. Complete with games of chance, sidewalk entertainers, and the sweet smell of cotton candy and roasted peanuts, Disney’s Boardwalk is a step back in time to the early 1900s. Nightlife at the Boardwalk is plentiful with a video dance club at the Atlantic Dancehall, dueling pianos at Jellyroll’s, and non-stop sports action at the ESPN Club. Dining options at the Boardwalk include Cat Cora’s Kouzzina, The Big River Grille, and The Flying Fish seafood restaurant. Located between the EPCOT and Hollywood Studios theme parks, Disney’s Boardwalk is full of fun and food.

3- Golfing at Disney. There are four 18-hole championship caliber golf courses woven throughout the Walt Disney World grounds. The Magnolia course is located near the Polynesian Resort and is appropriately named for the fragrant magnolia trees that are found throughout the 7,000 yard course. The Osprey Ridge track is located near the Fort Wilderness Resort and is designed by the famous architect Tom Fazio, and measures about 6,600 yards long. Disney’s Palm Golf Course has just under one-hundred bunkers on its 6,500 yard lay out located near the Polynesian Resort. The fourth championship course is the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course. Located near the Downtown Disney area, this course measures about 6,700 yards. All four of these championship courses include a GPS enabled golf cart in the green fee. A fifth course, Oak Trail Golf Course, can be found at WDW near the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. This is a 9-hole walking course is just under 3,000 yards and a par 36. Golf club rental is available at all five courses. If playing isn’t what you’re looking for, guests of the Disney World resorts can take a lesson or two from award-winning PGA instructors.

4- LaNouba by Cirque de Soleil. This acrobatic, theatrical experience has been wowing crowds for over a decade at Downtown Disney’s West End. A mixture of strength and grace, LaNouba has performers from all over the world creating mesmerizing stunts and dance from hanging wires and trampolines. Nearly sold to capacity every night of the year, reservations are advised before you make your trip to Walt Disney World.

5- Characters in Flight. This giant tethered balloon rises nearly 400-feet above the Downtown Disney area, giving visitors a panoramic view of the surroundings. Priced at around $20 for adults and $12 for kids, this 10-minute balloon ride is sure to create Disney memories.

6- Miniature Golf. There are four unique and fun miniature golf courses at the Walt Disney Resort. Two are found by the Swan and Dolphin resorts. Fantasia Gardens has one course that takes players through the Disney classic “Fantasia” as they play, while the second is a fairway style course, resembling a traditional golf course. Two other courses are found just outside the Blizzard Beach water park area. Known as Summerland, these two courses celebrate two favorite times of year. The Winter course takes players through a winter wonderland with Santa and his elves, while the Summer course winds players through the sand and surf of summer fun.

7- Splitsville. Brand new to the Downtown Disney area, this rock n’ roll style bowling facility isn’t your grandad’s bowling alley. Located in the former Virgin Megastore, Splitsville is scheduled to open in September of 2012. It will feature 30 bowling alleys, a dozen billiard tables, a restaurant, and sports screens throughout. During late-night hours, Splitsville will have a minimum age of 21, so couples and friends can socialize in a kid-free environment.

8- Dining at WDW resorts. When it comes to world-class dining and menu variety, the restaurants found throughout the Walt Disney resorts are second to none. Some of my favorite places are The Turf Club found at the Saratoga Resort and Spa, The California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Resort, and Olivia’s at the Old Key West resort. The Turf Club serves lunches and dinners in relaxed atmosphere reminiscent of sitting on the veranda of the Saratoga horse track in Upstate NY. The California Grill offers guests spectacular views from its location atop the Contemporary Resort, and a menu ranging from yellowfin tuna to bison to organic chicken. Olivia’s is one of my favorite WDW restaurants because of its menu and laid back atmosphere. Throughout the restaurant are pictures and artifacts of Key West, Florida. With regards to the menu, be sure to try their Chicken Caesar Salad. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner will likely be a pleasant surprise. Of course every resort at WDW has at least one full-service restaurant, and all meet, or surpass the quality that you would expect from Disney.

9- DisneyQuest. Located at Downtown Disney’s West End, DisneyQuest is five floors of futuristic, interactive games. Whether you want to design, then ride, your own roller coaster with Cyber Space Mountain or drive your own out-of-this-world car with Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters, these and other fun interactive experiences can be found at DisneyQuest. Virtual Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Carribean  -Battle for Gold, and Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam are just a few other attractions that can be played at DQ.

10- Relax at the Disney World Resorts. Whenever I visit Disney I try to remind myself that I am ‘on vacation’. With so much to do at WDW, it’s easy to forget that Disney World is packed with some of the finest resorts and spas to be found anywhere. All resorts at Disney have multiple pools, each with one large trademark swimming area, and usually several smaller pools, for a quieter, more relaxed, day of sun and fun. Each resort wraps itself around a theme, and true to Disney style, it is always done to near-exact detail. The Saratoga Resort and Spa celebrates the historic charm of Saratoga, NY, The Wilderness Lodge places its guests inside an upscale log cabin, complete with a working geyser, and The Grand Floridian is simply elegance personified. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers guests a unique experience by having animals found on the savannah of Africa grazing and wandering outside their balconies, while The Polynesian Resort and Spa transports its guests to the feeling of the far east islands.

So next time you’re planning a trip to Central Florida’s most famous tenant, don’t feel you have to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the theme parks of Walt Disney World. True, the theme parks of WDW are like no other, and are world-famous, but the land of Mickey contains so much more. Besides the ten ideas mentioned, there are so many more things to do, like behind-the-scenes tours, parasailing, boat rentals, and bike riding. Walt Disney World is truly “The Happiest Place on Earth”, and has so many things to do that every time you visit you’ll find a surprise waiting for you everyday.

Cooperstown Beverage Trail

For young and old, men and women, boys and girls, a great getaway can be found in Cooperstown, NY. Named after James Fenimore Cooper, the famous author of such classic writings as The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer, Cooperstown is a wonderful retreat to days gone by. With its National Baseball Hall of Fame, Farmer’s Museum, and Fenimore Art Museum, there is so much to do for just about any interest.

One of my favorite things to do, wherever my travels take me, is to try the local wines and beers. Heck, send me to Russia and I’ll likely indulge in sipping their vodka. In the Leatherstocking Region of New York State sits the Cooperstown Beverage Trail. Actually also known as New York’s first “Cuisine Trail”, this compilation of wineries, breweries, and cider mills is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

First on the Trail is the Fly Creek Cider Mill. This is a great place to stop first because besides the cider samplings, they have food and snacks, along with more food and snacks. And best of all, many of the things they sell can be sampled for free. From fudge to cheese, ciders to fruit wines, the Fly Creek Cider Mill is a flashback to the early General Store days.

Next on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail is the Brewery Ommegang. I swear the first time I visited the brewery I heard angels sing from above as I drove up the majestic path to its welcoming archway. The award-winning Brewery Ommegang offers several great-tasting beers, including Rare Vos, Hennepin, and the unique Three Philosophers. Ommegang’s tasting building is spacious and offers a nice variety of lunch selections as well.

A third stop on my “nearly-annual” tour is the Cooperstown Brewing Company. Though modest in exterior appearance, the CBC is a fun place to gather with friends to taste a wide-variety of brews. My favorites are found in their line known as the Lil’ Slugger selections.

Rounding out the Trail is the Bear Pond Winery. Their wine selection ranges from a Spumante to a Riesling, to a Pinot Grigio, to a sweet strawberry May wine. Tours at the Bear Pond Winery allow visitors to stroll the vineyards, watch the bottling process, and then follow the grape to its final destination by tasting the wine in the inviting Bear Pond tasting room.

In addition to the Cooperstown Beverage Trail there’s The National Baseball Hall of Fame opened in June of 1939, with its induction of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. Since that day, Cooperstown plays host to more than 350,000 visitors each year. The Hall of Fame celebrates the accomplishments of the game’s greats every summer during Hall of Fame Weekend.

Cooperstown isn’t all baseball though. The Farmer’s Museum offers a slice of the past with its many hands-on exhibits of the mid-1800’s. Visitors to the museum can see candlestick makers, blacksmiths, and more artisans work their craft in the 19th century surroundings. The Heritage Gardens section of the Farmer’s Museum offers a glance at everyday life over 150 years ago. Spending a day at the Farmer’s Museum will seem like an hour.

The Fenimore Art Museum is made up of eleven galleries that contain the finest in American folk art and North American Indian art. The museum is also the home of the largest collection of James Fenimore Cooper memorabilia and original documents. Visitors to the museum will not only enjoy the variety of collections, but will be in awe of the museum’s structure itself.

Cooperstown is also the home of the famous Otesaga Hotel and Resort, an experience that one should enjoy at least once in a lifetime. Adjacent to the Otesaga is the Leatherstocking Golf Club, a magnificent test of golf in meticulous surroundings. Of course any baseball fan shouldn’t pass up a visit to Doubleday Field, the Home of Baseball. History tells us that it is here where Abner Doubleday first invented the game.

Shopping and dining in Cooperstown is seemingly endless. The four blocks of Main Street are lined with tiny shops and eateries, most (but not all) with a baseball theme. Pictures, memorabilia, and autographs of baseball’s greats are packed into every nook and cranny of the village. Whether you’re in need of fine dining or just a snack, the village’s restaurants will certainly accommodate your appetite. My favorite stop for lunch in Cooperstown is Danny’s Market. I love the feel of a traditional NYC deli, and the food and company inside is one of a kind. Of all the times I’ve stayed in Cooperstown I find myself going back to the wonderful accommodations of The White House Inn. Owned and operated by Ed and Marjorie Landers,  this fabulous B&B annually accommodates Hall of Famers in town for visits and autograph signings. All of which have even autographed the wall leading up the main staircase.

So this summer, whether the kids are complaining that there’s nothing to do, or you’re just looking for a quick escape as a couple, consider Cooperstown as a weekend getaway or a week-long stay. It is most assuredly a time that will add to your summertime memories for years to come.

 

Ahhh, Newport

 

Rhode Island. The 13th state in the union. The smallest state of the 50 in the U.S. The state nicknamed “The Ocean State”. And that my friends is what drew me to fall in love with the state of Rhode Island years ago; the water! Located in the New England region of the Northeastern United States, this gem of a state borders the mighty Atlantic Ocean. It is here that many take in the natural beauty of the land and sea, especially during the summer and autumn months. And within this gem of a state is the wonderful town of Newport.

Ahhh, Newport! Home of some of the finest sailing anywhere in the world, incredible dining & shopping, and my favorite of all, The Annual Newport Jazz Festival. Often proclaimed one of this country’s most beautiful places, Newport is a 3D postcard of true Americana. Whether you want to stroll down historic Bellevue Avenue to take in the famous Newport Mansions, like Vanderbilt’s The Beaches mansion, or walk along Newport’s Cliff Walk, a three-mile stretch that offer up incredible views of the beaches and ocean, this seaside town has something for everyone. One can’t leave Newport without first dining at the area’s famous White Horse Tavern on Farewell Street. This building sits on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and serves lunches and dinners seven days a week.

This year’s Newport Jazzfest runs from August 3-5 and features such acts as Dr. John, Pete Metheny, and Dianne Reeves. Located in the picture-perfect setting of Fort Adams State Park, this annual event is a must-see for any music lover.

Throughout the spring and summer months Newport hosts a walking tour that takes visitors through the history-filled streets. The Colonial Newport History Walking Tour takes about 75 minutes and is filled with information, mystery, and fun.

So much of Newport’s being revolves around the history and mystique of sailing. My wife, Rachel, and I chartered a sailboat one afternoon and created our own stories by sailing out of Newport Harbor and into the Atlantic Ocean. Our charter included lunch and beverages, along with some time of anchoring for swimming in the harbor. Far from our amateur lazy day, true sailing enthusiasts can enjoy America’s Cup sailing events beginning in May and running through the summer months. Perhaps this year’s highlight is the Ocean State Tall Ships Festival running from July 6-9, which will help to commemorate the War of 1812.

Choosing a place to stay in Newport can vary from the luxury of one of their many hotel and spas, to the romance and elegance of a Bed & Breakfast or Inn which is found dotted throughout the streets of this oceanside retreat.

It is likely that every visitor to the seaside treasure of Newport is bound to create their own unique list of favorite places to visit, attractions to experience, and restaurants to enjoy.

5 places you must visit in Rhode Island

Rhode Island. The 13th state in the union. The smallest state of the 50 in the U.S. The state nicknamed “The Ocean State”. And that my friends is what drew me to fall in love with the state of Rhode Island years ago; the water! Located in the New England region of the Northeastern United States, this gem of a state borders the mighty Atlantic Ocean. It is here that many take in the natural beauty of the land and sea, especially during the summer and autumn months. So if you have never visited Rhode Island before, or it’s been a few years since your last visit, here are five places that you must see in Rhode Island.

5-  Providence– Rhode Island’s state capital has a population of about 175,000, and its twenty-five neighborhoods are packed with delightful shops and restaurants. Located along the Providence River and Narragansett Bay, Providence offers up a touch of big-city flare with a touch of quaintness. When visiting, most tourists end up at the city’s signature location, Waterplace Park. Located in the heart of the city, this park was created in the 1980’s during a major urban renovation, and serves as Providence’s gathering place today.

4- Narragansett– This quiet little town sits alongside the beauty of Narragansett Bay with wonderful hotels, B&Bs, and charming restaurants. There are also four beaches in Narragansett that allow visitors to rest and cool down in the warm New England summers. One of my favorite places to eat is O’Brien’s Pub. Located on Thames Street, O’Brien’s has a fantastic menu of food (and beer) with a comfortable outdoor setting.

3- Point Judith & Galilee– The area of Point Judith and Galilee is always hopping with activity. The marina  is bustling with fishing boats coming and going on a regular basis. Quite often the fishermen are selling their day’s catch right off their boat! The area is also where the ferry leaves for Block Island. The area has a couple nice beaches, a handful of stores, several delightful restaurants, and dozens of fishermen anxious to share their salty tales of the sea.

2- Block Island– For those looking to get away from it all for a day trip, weekend, or even a week-long stay, Block Island is fantastic. A great place to enjoy lunch or dinner is the National Hotel’s Tap & Grille. Located on Block Island Sound, the Tap & Grille has a huge porch that allow guests to dine while viewing the boats. With dozens of clothing, jewelry, and specialty shops, shopping is always high on most visitors’ lists. There are also several galleries with work from local painters and artisans.

1- Newport– Ahhh, Newport! Home of some of the finest sailing anywhere in the world, incredible dining & shopping, and my favorite of all, The Annual Newport Jazz Festival. Often proclaimed one of this country’s most beautiful places, Newport is a 3D postcard of true Americana. Whether you want to stroll down historic Bellevue Avenue to take in the famous Newport Mansions, like Vanderbilt’s The Beaches mansion, or walk along Newport’s Cliff Walk, a three-mile stretch that offer up incredible views of the beaches and ocean, this seaside town has something for everyone. One can’t leave Newport without first dining at the area’s famous White Horse Tavern on Farewell Street. This building sits on the U.S. Register of Historic Places and serves lunches and dinners seven days a week.

These are my five favorite places to visit in Rhode Island, but with its miles of seashore and seemingly countless restaurants, shops, and beaches, every visitor to this seaside treasure is bound to easily create their own unique list.