Terry Zinn

84 POSTS

Travel is always an adventure and no more so than on a cruise where you are definitely not in control, as that is the responsibility of the ship’s Captain. With a Blount Small Ship Adventure you are sure to have an adventurous nature as their relatively small ships (80 passengers) traverse less traveled waterways and dock at destinations where only small ships can go. My trip aboard the Grande Caribe took me from Montreal (see Part One of this sojourn) up to Quebec, then back through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, along the trail of the Erie Canal via the New York Canal System, down the Hudson River and docking in little old New York City, after a farewell cruise by the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan while pausing at the Statue of Liberty.
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This being my first time with Blount (it has about a 50% return booking of previous passengers) I have to commend the cruise staff from Captain John Hunnewell, to the all-important Cruise director, Lisa Pontarelli, down through all the seventeen support staff of housekeeping, galley servers and the deck hands who were all cheerful and helpful day after day of my twelve day cruise. A cruise ship company can have little control over weather, or tides, but when they pay special attention to passenger service, you know you have a good company and see why Blount has such a good return booking. Blount is not so much about luxury accommodations as they are about informative and enjoyable destinations where many other cruise ships cannot go. Among other destinations my favorites (I have several favorites) include historic Hyde Park, home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the Impressive West Point academy; Cooperstown with its charming main street shops, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and nearby Fenimore Art Museum preserved in an historic house. The Grande Caribe also stopped off at the Wooden Boat Museum, the town of Troy, the Fredric Remington Art Museum and a tour of the Singer Castle. But most enjoyable was progressing at a leisurely pace along the waterway with its homes and mansions of the Thousand Islands and all along the fabled Hudson River valley. Traveling on the water gives you a tangible concept of the country’s geography and how it influenced the area’s history.
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For true marine lovers the over thirty canal locks encountered from Montreal to NYC, is illuminating. Passengers continued to marvel at these engineering mechanisms and how adept the crew and captain was at navigating through them. These relatively short pauses give one time to reflect on the communities they bolster as well as a glimpse into American culture.
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A Blount Small Ship Adventure nurtures a leisurely pace of travel. While the day is structured with a 7:30 a.m. bell to call you to an 8 a.m. breakfast, and the following lunch and dinner, you never feel rushed, even though everyone on my cruise was eager for the delicious meal times. Breakfast offers a cold buffet of fruit, yogurt cereals, as the crew serves the specialty of the morning which might be eggs benedict, fresh scrambles eggs, hot pancakes, muffins or waffles. If there is a special egg order it is gladly taken. Lunch usually consists of a soup of the day and a variety of sandwiches throughout the cruise. After a BYOB cocktail hour, dinner may start off with a salad, followed by an entree of the day, maybe a steak, Mahi Mahi, pasta or Game Hen. Complementary wines are served by the glass during lunch and more extensively at dinner. Of course a desert of ice cream or cake or pie tops off the meal. All meals are open seating and it’s fun to mix up your dining partners, or cling to the congenial folks you like the most. The hit of any of our meals was the fresh baked variety of breads.
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As a single traveler I relished having one of the few cabins with an outside door to the walk around deck. While the sliding door often would not stay shut, when it was open during day cruising it was a joy to relax on the opposite bed with views out the door of the shoreline accented with a variety of homes and landscapes dotted with colorful autumn trees. My cabin was designed for two, and I might suggest for my tastes two persons might be one too many in any of the cabins, as elbow room in the cabins is at a premium. But such is the design of small ships. I did hear some first time passengers comment on the noise in the cabins of the individually controlled air system , the engine noise, and the challenge in taking a brief compact shower, but that has to be chalked up to part of the small ship adventure. Again, the Blount cruise is about destinations not accommodations.
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The evenings offered a formal cultural lecture in the common area, by Frederick Stonehouse, author of thirty books which made him an expert on the maritime history we were experiencing. A personable gentleman who was just as interesting when joining him during the informal family styled meals. Other evenings there was on board entertainment. The best perhaps was the jazz trio of Skip Parsons who brought a Dixieland style to this ultimate river boat. As my trip was in late October, when children would be in school, my cruise was made up almost entirely of senior citizens. I found all the fellow travelers well informed and well-traveled. Getting to know a portion of their knowledge was an added Blount Small Ship Adventures treat.

For your specal interests sign up for email alerts and explore a variety of 2015 cruise destinations at:

http://www.blountsmallshipadventures.com/

As you can tell from the title I had a near 3 week tour of the North East which was an all-consuming adventure of over 1100 miles, 32 locks and many city visits via Blount’s Grand Caribe small cruise ship. Blount specializes in traveling where large ships cannot go and giving their guests exceptional access to destinations approachable by rivers in North America. Blount cruises are ideal for Senior citizens. (More details about my cruise in Part Two.) It’s always a good idea to arrive early for any cruise ship departure, as you’d had to miss the boat because of airline or weather delays. I did that with my 3 night stay in one of my most enjoyable city explorations in Old Montreal.
Taking the suggestion of Montreal Tourism, I stayed at the upscale boutique Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel, in the middle of historic yet modern old town. The hotel offered all the amenities expected with a flare and style for which you always wished. The dining, bar, concierge, bell men, Internet access, housekeeping and staff all were the best of the best with efficient and congenial service. Le Saint-Sulpice is indeed a pleasant and quiet oasis from your Montreal touring.
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Being my first time in Montreal, I enjoyed my morning car tour by expert guide, Ruby Roy, who showed me many Montreal iconic sights. They included the past Olympic and Expo venues, several overlook vistas of the Montreal skyline, an exposure to the variety of unique architectural styles of its neighborhoods (where the design of street lights change with each neighborhood), the Atwater Farmers market and of course topping off with a visit to the 1823 Notre-Dame Basilica (entry fee), which is only half a block from my Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel.
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It’s said that Montreal has over 6,000 restaurants, but as only having 3 days, I was pleased to accept the challenge and sample a few, most in Old Montreal and within walking distance. Many were near the main street of Old Montreal, Saint Paul Street, East and West. The street is filled with enticing upscale art galleries, shops and other businesses housed in vintage Montreal facades. At times I felt I was strolling through a European city, exhibiting its sophisticated culture. A short distance from Le Saint-Suplice is the Montreal Museum of Archeological and History, a must to see for its original foundations of Old Montreal, and to explore its history through a labyrinth of exhibition narratives. The experience of taking in their multiple image movie was a welcome diversion and informational. A real treat is the very popular museum café, Restaurant l’AArrivage. The concierge at the hotel retrieved the last table available for my noontime respite, where the food was economical and delicious along with a variety of local people watching. So as not to be disappointed reservations, even for a noon time meal, is a must at most all Montreal restaurants. My other dining pleasures included: Helena is very popular and crowded with a Portuguese style menu. Chez L’Epicier has an elegant atmosphere and food presentations which started off with a Kir Maison of sparkling apple cider, cranberry and maple, to accompany their amuse bush of a sweet macaroon and chocolate mint. This may be their “eat dessert first” philosophy. Ask for their Club Sandwich, which is a dessert of sweet delights presented as if it were a sandwich. Perhaps the best taste in all Montreal was their Roasted Butternut Squash (tasting like peaches!) with sour cream and walnut crumble.
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Osteria Venti, was again a very popular restaurant. It seems everyone in Montreal eats out all the time. The service here was congenial and I must say that they followed my Martini instructions to the letter without hesitation. It seems in Canada in particular, that martinis are stirred not usually shaken, so my detailed instruction (ice on the pond) was welcomed, as they wanted to please this customer, as they also did with my meal of oven roasted half chicken, rustic peperonata, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

You’ll need to take a taxi to Chez Ma Grosse Truie Cherie – but it was worth it to dine on their onion soup, pork tenderloin encrusted (port is their specialty), a hazel nut crème Brule, and accompany all with either an apple Martini or their special drink created by the bar tender, David, a martini of Montreal gin, herbs and a hint of maple syrup. To know that most their interior is from recycle materials including bowling alley wood made into table tops, is an added treat.
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Back at Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel your choice of breakfast dishes at the Sinclair restaurant is extensive, and who doesn’t need an early morning wake up for a full day of touring? If weather permits you might eat out on the patio, or if not, inside the enclosed terrace offering floor to ceiling windows. Having this hotel as your elegant, secure and convenient home in Old Montreal is a comfortable way to enjoy the city. There is even a Christmas shop halfway between the hotel and the Notre-Dame Basilica, and a liquor store across the street. Old Montreal…my new favorite haunt. Check out: www.tourisme-montreal.org, www.lesaintsulpice.com, www.restauranthelena.com, www.chezlepicier.com, www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/plan-your-visit/larrivage-restaurant, www.osteriaventi.com, info@blountsmallshipadventures.com.

A stay in the resort area of Cancun, Mexico is always a treat, but to get further away from the world, a 30 minute boat ride over to the Island of Cozumel is mandatory. Outside of the docking terminal hubbub, things are a bit more tropical and relaxed. There are still upscale hotel accommodations, gourmet meals and azure clear water, but the Island mentality can also happily wash over you.

I stayed at the Hotel B, where written in the zero infinity pool were the words, “Just Be.” It is a fitting philosophy for any vacation. This does not mean that you should just vegetate at your hotel pool or ocean side beach, but to let Cozumel’s attractions infuse your stay. I found the —- a pleasant semi open air motel-like hotel with a staff trying their best to accommodate its guests. Hotel B is a mini resort or boutique, in that the real estate area is small but packed with areas for sunning, dining, swimming in their pool or in a small and exotic ocean side lagoon.
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There’s plenty of history on Cozumel of the early Mayan culture, the influx of Spanish conquers and even tales of Pirates who used the island as their retreat. In your visit to the Mayan archeological site of San Gervasio, you are stepping back into history by visiting the remaining ruins of a civilization. The stone structures are not as complete or as inspiring as better known Mayan sites, but still you can come away with an appreciation of the past civilizations of Cozumel. Some of the temples may have held worship for the goddess Ixchel, whose name is a combination of the Mayan words, female and white faced. You will need to drive there or take a guided tour – both recommended.
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With a car you can circle the island and stop at your own scenic attractions, such as the eco beach park of Punta Sur, with natural mangroves, the Colombia lagoon, the Celarain Lighthouse and its museum. The famous Mayan ruin El Caracol is said to be an ancient lighthouse, too. Or a privately owned beach bar/café, and a beer in a hammock may fit your mood perfectly. The crashing surf and artistically gathered drift wood accentuates Cozumel’s off the beat track nature.
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For a more commercial venue, the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park, offers, food and beverage service from your acquired beach chair beneath a thatch shade, while observing holiday families with an ocean backdrop. Or for more the active visitor, you may rent scuba or snorkeling gear, take a Mayan steam bath, called a temazcal session. And if time permits you might swim with dolphins or pick up traditional Mayan and Mexican souvenirs or relax in one of the three restaurants. Deep sea sport fishing is also available in Cozumel.
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For an island away from the island, a real treat is an excursion to the private, Passion Island, with its acres of white sand beach and symmetrical placed palm trees. It’s 25 minutes by boat from downtown, or as I was, picked up at your Hotel ocean side, for a day of all inclusive and simple luxury. Passion Island is the perfect place to find your place in the sun or shade or private romantic spot, with food and unlimited beverage service.
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For additional dining options I can recommend the Kondessa Cozumel Restaurant, the historic Hacienda Mission Restaurant, and the Occidental Grand Cozumel grill, at the upscale and expansive Occidental Grand Resort. With the all many activities Cozumel has to offer, you might forget to “JUST BE.”

Before you go check out:

www.kondesacozumel.com www.missioncoz.com www.cozumelparks.com

www.CozumelToday.com www.hotelbcozumel.com www.isla-pasion.com

Looking back, I had a bucket list before there was the term bucket list. High upon it was a scenic and comfortable train travel through the highly touted Canadian Rocky Mountains from Banff to Vancouver. It’s no longer on my bucket list as I recently experience a near flawless journey.

Often you get what you pay for, and this was evident in booking the highest of three levels of service of Rocky Mountaineer travel. Gold-Leaf Service is the best, with Silver-Leaf and Red Leaf Service following close by. With the Gold-Leaf Service, the experienced traveler receives a private double decker rail car with a minimum of 4 attendants for the 60 passenger car: two devoted to your observation deck requests of continuous open bar beverage services, and two on the first level serving two open seating’s per day of full breakfasts and lunches, on a two day trip.
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The open seating dining, invites you to meet and discover more about your fellow congenial passengers. My four different dining companions with their varied histories, added reality and spice to the variety of scenery passing by the picture windows.

While the dining service was fast and efficient, I never felt rush to finish dining and conversations, so that the dining level could be prepared for the next service. How the chef does all that he does in an abbreviated kitchen with a few accomplished helpers is a marvel. It’s almost as impressive as the sight of the towering Canadian Rockies, as the 400 passenger train snakes its way through passes and tunnels, over bridges and besides thunderous rivers. I enjoyed the Beef Short ribs, the Cedar Planked Salmon, the Untraditional Fish and Chips, Pancakes and Eggs Benedict. Bloody Marys’ may be requested for breakfast and 4 wines are offered at afternoon lunches, and throughout the afternoons viewing from your observation deck assigned seat.
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Photography aficionados will have no problem filling their days with expansive and majestic scenery, either from their double domed Gold-Leaf Service car, or from the outside open air observation vestibule, which offers fresh air views from either side of the train. Guests may want to bring along a good book, or knitting, or just leave the worldly cares behind and let the Canadian Rocky Mountains waft over them, as informative crew intermittently describe the history of the passing landscape.

Also with Gold-Leaf Service you can be assigned the best of hotel accommodations in Banff, and Vancouver, before and after your trip and the overnight lodgings half way through the journey at Kamloops. While up the mountain side from Banff the Rimrock Hotel and Vancouver’s city centered Sheraton Wall hotel both offered me upscale accommodations. At Kamloops the new contemporary Sandman Signature Hotel was a surprising treat of an accommodation. With Gold-Leaf Service your luggage arrives at your hotel room before you do, making the transition from travel to overnight stays a more lux experience. I booked an extra night on the start of my trip in Banff and an extra day in Vancouver before returning home. I highly recommend this, after traveling so long and far to these attraction packed cities.
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Thanks to Discover Banff tours I booked a day tour over to Lake Louise – an iconic image of the Canadian Rockies not to be missed. There are strenuous high mountain hiking trails to test your endurance, or you may want to just stroll lake level, or pause and take in the meeting of lake and mountain. I topped off my day with a late afternoon meal at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louse patio dining, with beverage and meal. Hard to discern whether it was the amazing view or the delicious food and drink that was so enjoyable. In any case a most pleasurable memory to place in my bucket. I only wish I had booked an additional day in Banff so I could have taken the full day tour up to the ice fields, and mountain lakes with wildlife viewing possibilities. But I was so glad I did get to experience part of Lake Louise.
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I had an extra planned day in Vancouver and booked a Sea to Sky Gondola tour at a mountain site by Howe sound about 45 miles north of Vancouver. Again a congenial guide took us to Horseshoe Lake for a brief stop before a stop at Shannon Falls, a lunch break at the top of the Gondola (again views not to be missed and a high altitude hamburger – one of the best), with accompanying suspension bridge and then a tour of the old Britannia mineral mine. An unexpected bump in my travels was when United cancelled my return flight from Vancouver, and I had a 12 hour delay before the next available Red Eye flight. Making lemonade out of these lemons I stored my luggage for a fee and took the airport train back into downtown Vancouver for my own walking tour using the very busy hop on hop off bus. I visited the art museum with a lunch, the observation deck at Top of Vancouver, and then to Granville Island where I imbibed and toured the Liberty Distillery, learning and tasting how top shelf Gin and Vodka are made. Then off to the harbor again with their active water taxis, before taking the train back to the airport to wait for my return flight.
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It seems when you check one activity off your bucket list, it gets replaced with another one. In my case, Rocky Mountaineer has more routes other than the “First Passage to the West,” which I took. They also have connections to Jasper, Lake Louise, Whistler and Seattle and from 2 day trips to Circle Journeys of 9 days. I found that one of those trips slipped into my bucket.

For detailed information and booking look at:

www.rockymountaineer.com/en_CA_BC/ and www.banfftours.com/specials and www.viator.com/tours/Vancouver/Sea-to-Sky-Highway-Day-Trip-from-Vancouver-Shannon-Falls-Britannia-Mine-and-Gondola-Ride/d616-3914SEASKY and http://thelibertydistillery.com/

New Orleans is synonyous as a party town. And it’s true, as there is almost a festival or event to celebrate every week in New Orleans. I recently visited the “Big Easy” during its New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, known as NOWFE. The event spotlights the city’s legendary restaurants along with fine wines. More than 250 wineries are typically represented during the five day festival at a series of indoor and outdoor events. Each year tickets are available for a variety of food and wine dinners and pairings in intimate dining rooms or at the massive convention center. Besides taking in favorite New Orleans dining haunts, such as the John Besh Steakhouse, and charming Court of Two Sisters, I enjoyed several informative and delicious NOWFE events as well.
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A surprising dinner held upstairs at famed Galatoire’s, featuring Barefoot Wines, was educational and thirst quenching. The surprise was not in the elegant food and atmosphere but the diversity of Barefoot Wines, which were paired with each course. The fun and affordable wines are offered in a plethora of styles including: Barefoot Bubble Prosecco (honey and lemon flavors), California Chardonnay (easy drinking), Refresh Crisp Red (a pino-like wine on the rocks), California Merlot (a classic paired with beef), among many wine fusions. My favorite was the Barefoot Bubbly Tropical Fusion (with hints of pineapple, island mango and papaya).
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Another food and wine paring was held at the Hotel Mazarin where five Souverain wines were the center piece of the multi course dinner. Their Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is simple and uncomplicated but fresh and fruity. Their 2011 north coast Chardonnay has flavors of crème Brule and their 2012 Merlot with hints of blueberry is easy drinking. The Tenderloin of Beef was paired with my evening’s favorite of the 2010 Souverain Alexander Valley Cabernet Reserve.
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But the topper of the NOWFE week is the Royal Street Stroll, where with your arm banded entrance; you can sample many wines and morsels, set up in the middle of antique famous Royal Street. You can pick and choose which undiscovered wines you’d like to explore, while at the same time visiting welcoming antique dealers. The best and over the top is the M.S. Rau Antiques, where they offer several floors and galleries of old world antiques of silver, paintings, sculptures and furniture, accented by wine and desert tastings, if you venture to its farthest galleries. This decadent experience of sipping wines and imbibing morsels while strolling the eye candy antiques, is only available once a year during Royal Street Stroll.
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It is almost imperative that you stay at one of the French Quartet hotels, where you are within easy walking distance of the events and you are filled with authentic 21st century French Quarter experiences. I split up my 4 day stay with 2 nights at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel with its upscale large hotel amenities and the Dauphine Orleans Hotel where the compound divide by Dauphine street, both gave a relaxed and quite respite. At both properties I sent email requests for a quiet room, something of a rarity in the middle of the French quarter, but each property delivered the perfect room locale. Each has accessibility to a bar: ghost filled May Baileys’ Place, at The Dauphine Orleans Hotel, and the Bourbon O Bar at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. It’s always entertaining to visit a variety of bars, where each has its own ambience and quality of beverages.
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May Baily’s Place, offered a congenial hostess, with quick service and impeccable mixes within an historic atmosphere. While the street entrance is on Dauphine it could be easily missed, and it is a boon that it’s connected to the courtyard of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel. Both properties are part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection which also includes the properties of: Audubon Cottages, Hotel Le Marais, Hotel Mazarin, Crown Plaza Airport, and the Whitney Boutique Hotel. Each has summer special rates which include breakfast, free parking and free Wi-Fi. Also included is a complimentary drink upon check in, and connections to airport shuttles.

And for a real southern Louisiana experience an overnight stay at picturesque Oak Alley and the garden landscaped Houmas House are easily arranged. Subscribe for free to Real Travel Adventures and get details on these two plantation lodgings, in upcoming articles.
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Anytime is a great time to celebrate in New Orleans, as there is almost a festival every weekend. So if you can’t make the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, then check out the other festivals at: http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/festivals/

And before you go: www.neworleanshotelcollection.com www.souverain.com

www.barefootwine.com

www.nowfe.com

www.chefjohnbesh.com/restaurants/besh-steak/

One good thing about having travel and life experiences is revisiting them later in life. In my college days I visited Cancun, Mexico and marveled at its prime attraction ~ the clear aquamarine waters. Revisiting that stretch of glorious sandy beach recently, I can attest, it is still there and as beautiful and mesmerizing as ever.

I stayed at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Hotel, with its own stretch of paradise, and enough amenities you may not want to venture out. With two towers of rooms, with most providing an expansive view of the ocean with stunning sunrises, there are views of several swimming pools and water features, dotted with dining venues. A breakfast indoors or out is an invigorating start to your day at the Vina del Mar. The extensive breakfast buffet includes everything you could desire: pastries, fruits, cereals, juices, hot entrées and made to order eggs. If you are eager to celebrate the day, champagne is available. Lunch can be taken at the Contoy Restaurant, Coral Cafe or pool bars, with restaurants; Isla Contoy, La Joya, or Coral Café, for your evening dining pleasure. The rooms are large and most with a small private balcony lets you enjoy the ocean breeze and stunning vistas, letting you know you have arrived at one of the world’s most desirable locales. If you can, I suggest booking on the executive level where one flight up is a semi private lounge with complementary beverages, snacks and more ocean vistas.
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Housekeeping is efficient and prompt. Every large hotel property may present a brief problem and a hotel’s handling of that bump in your stay, is a test to their customer care. I had an issue and it was generously and quickly resolved. Large fresh bouquets of flowers accentuate the welcome to the hotel and its large lobby atrium. Not to be missed is their extensive Gem Spa and its journey through water therapy. There was little need to explore the touristy shops outside of the property, but if it’s your desire to pick up a souvenir or two, shops are conveniently available. As the populous actively seeks your purchases you may have to give your touristy “No Thank You” reply more than you would like.

On my previous visit to Cancun, an hour’s drive south of the city is the area known as Rivera Maya which was just a thought in designer’s mind on my last visit. Today it hosts several upscale and enticing resorts and attractions. One attraction is the cultural park known as Xcaret. On the extensive grounds is an historic hacienda, craft and music demonstrations amid jungle growth. The impressive historical pageant presented in a grand covered arena is not to be missed. Even without knowing Spanish the pageant visually and musically takes you from the life of the original inhabitants, through colonization. A recreation of the “ball game” played by early Mayans is a highlight and a rare opportunity to see the skill needed to succeed at this hand’s off sport. Also you may take in the Aquarium, a Mayan cemetery, underground rivers, Mayan village and sample archeological reconstructions. A buffet lunch with beverages is included with the admission price.
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For your future enjoyment Cirque du Soleil Riviera is in the process of creating a unique show, called Joya, to tell the story of Mayan life. For the first time the company is creating its own arena/theatre complex with connections to the Grand Mayan resort. While construction is underway, and schedule for a late 2014 opening, you can enjoy the opulence of the Grand Mayan hotel, and its expansive pools and luxurious accommodations with dining at the Grand Mayan Palace Restaurant. Tickets are now on sale in several price ranges, with and without dinner, for the shows which promise to offer more audience interaction than any other Cirque show. This is not a touring production and will only be offered here in the Rivera Maya. With the forethought and the quality reputation of Cirque, this show in Rivera Maya may become a destination unto itself.
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Still in Rivera Maya is the Rosewood Mayakoba resort. If arriving during daylight hours you are greeted with a refreshing beverage as your luggage is delivered to your bungalow, while you are escorted by small private boat through jungle like lagoons to your resort accommodations. Along the way you may spot many varieties of the wild life native to the property. Luncheon might be served in a large palapa like structure next to a sampling of the coastal beach. The buffet dinner I enjoyed was complete with made to order beverages, sushi, pork, side dishes and a selection of sweet deserts. Relaxing on the outside benches, while the sunset was in lingering to dark, and with the accompanying sounds of the surf and salt air, one knows they have sampled a touch of the lux life.
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There are many more resorts in Rivera Maya and you may want to peruse the Moon Palace, and the Hotel El Cid Puerto Morelso. For your trip planning be sure and look at:

http://www.fiestamericanagrand.com/en/mx-cancun/hotel-grand-coral-beach

http://www.xcaret.com ~

http://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/mayakoba-riviera-maya

http://www.thegrandmayan.com/riviera-maya

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/joya/default.aspx

Puerto Rico claims to be the culinary capitol of the Caribbean, and after a short visit there I concur. I started my culinary investigation at their SABOREA food festival, where a tented carnival atmosphere is the setting for sampling a number of gourmet treats, and beverages. The festival location next to the ocean offered cooking demonstration as well as small tented venues with a variety of offerings. The alcoholic beverage area was a popular venue where samplings of various brands could be consumed. For more detailed information check out the SABOREA web site for next year’s tickets and dates.

I had a Chefs private tasting dinner at the Pikayo Restaurant at the Condado Plaza Hotel, prepared by Chef Willo Bennet. The elegant small plate preparations provided a plethora of taste explosions. My favorite was the Corned Beef Brisket Stew and Coconut Milk Polenta.
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The Condado Plaza where I stayed provides two towers of rooms; one facing the ocean and one a lagoon. While I thought I wanted the ocean view – I found my sunrise side lagoon quite enjoyable were I could view the water sport activities from my balcony and the skyline of San Juan. The hotel’s location away from Old San Juan was enjoyable, but if you want a more intimate lodging you might try the Bed and Breakfast, Casa Sole. A newly renovated home, where each room is its own character and the food offered is freshly prepared upon ordering. The atmosphere is charming, adding to the appeal of its location in Old San Juan proper.
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The recommended eating venues are so numerous, space here does not do them justice, but I must list them for your San Juan culinary explorations. Café Cialitors is a gourmet coffee lovers delight – where Joaquin Pastor takes great pride in his carefully hand selected beans which he brews. He might take you in the back room for a more in depth explanation of the coffee process.

Lunch at the Hotel El Convento, again offers gourmet meals in an old world renovated convent. There I got a very special Mojito Recipe from Bar Expert, Luis Flores, who also created a most delectable Pina Colada. They also offer Mango, Guava or Passion Fruit Rum Mojitos. Their lunch of Red Snapper and a Lime Beurre Blanc along with a beverage is a must respite while touring Old Town.

Quesos Casa Lila Rose, upon appointment, can help you make your own artisan cheese, with flavors you choose. And while wine always goes well with cheese, you should not miss a tour of the Barcardi Distillery, where I learned in a VIP tasting the process of various Barcardi Rums. The regular tour includes two rum drinks before your tour of the visitor center to learn the history of the Barcardi family business.

My lunch at La Casita Blanca in Santurce offered authentic Puerto Rican food in an intimate home-like atmosphere where fresh tortillas are made before your table. My dinner was at Santaella in La Placita de Santurce which is an upscale, popular restaurant offering flavors with global influences. I had an acceptable Filet Mignon, with exquisite Fried Plantains, Chocolate Sponge Cake and a Citrus Martini that needed assistance. With one wall encasing a green jungle garden, it’s a dining venue you should include.
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Breakfast came with a sweet tooth at the Casa Cortes Choco Bar where chocolate pervades most all of its offerings, from pastries, to hot chocolate varieties. Casa Cortes is another example of a family owned tradition. The famed chocolate is now being offered in gourmet tins (Forteza), and accompanies the art gallery on the upper floors promotion of indigenous artists, in a space for community events. I am impressed with Casa Cortes’ many entrepreneurial ventures.
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My favorite dinner venue was the Olive Restaurant in the Olive boutique Hotel, where the private roof top lounge offers surprising elegance with an old world Mediterranean ambience. Out of five courses my favorite was Oliva’s Signature Crème Brule. Another outdoor balcony dining can be enjoyed at Chef Trevino’s Budatai restaurant a short distance from the Condado Hotel. The unprepossessing entrance disguises the elegant upscale décor with an efficient kitchen team, and their unison good natured chant of “Working!”

You can alleviate your guilt of over eating by touring the El Yunque Rainforest, via the Rico Sun Tour Company, which was my expert host for many of my epicurean excursions all over San Juan proper and its suburbs. I’ve offered my recommendations here and so now it’s your turn to explore in person or via cyberspace, Puerto Rico’s culinary delights.

Explore: www.thecondadoplaza.hilton.com, www.fincacialitos.com, www.loizadark.com, www.casacortespr.com, www.wilobenet.com, www.elconvento.com , www.ootwrestaurants.com , www.santaellapr.com, http://saboreapuertorico.com/, http://rstpuertorico.com/tourspuertorico/home.php, www.casabacardi.org/

On a recent visit to Kansas City, Missouri I thought I’d let them Entertain me with live theatrical presentations. I always enjoy seeing what each city offers in the way of performing arts and Kansas City certainly stages some quality productions.

My main interest was to see the “Sing Off” road show tour, featuring the winners, of the a cappella group “Home Free.” I know the lead singer, Austin Brown, from my Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity days at our alma mater, Oklahoma City University. Seeing him on the televised competition was a treat and to see and hear him in person, in the third row of the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland Theater in downtown Kansas City, was a delight. The large historic grand old theater is a preservation of a time when theater interiors were gold gilded palaces. The Midland has been loving restored and features many one night only road show tours. The near sell out crowd was a testament to the drawing power and the quality of “Home Free.”
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I was lucky that this weekend was also the performance time for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s, La Boheme, performed in the modern Kaufman Center. The performance in Italian with sub text scrolled across the seat back in front of you, could not have been better in quality of signers, orchestra sets, costumes and all the elements that go into live theatre. The well-educated audience was most appreciative. Recently the Lyric Opera acquired new upscale administrative offices, where designers can work on their creations, as it also houses a massive storage capacity for sets, which can be rented out to other theaters. If you can, take in one of their Opera Preshow dinners with fellow theatre lovers and gourmet cuisine hosted for my visit at the Affare restaurant.

Over on the UMKC campus is the Kansas City repertory Theatre, where I saw a most entertaining production of, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” While it has mild references to Chekov, the story line is a well made situation comedy that anyone can enjoy. Again I was impressed with the quality of actors, and overall production quality. I must see more of their productions.
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For the visual arts I took in the Nelson-Adkins Museum of Art outdoor sculpture garden where a new glass–walled Labyrinth installation was being created in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. While this is my third visit to the Nelson there is still so much more to explore. Showing now through July 20th is a very rare Daguerreotype collection – not to be missed. Over at the Union Station complex they were readying for a King Tut exhibit which runs through September 7. It appeared to be quite an extensive, entertaining and informative installation.
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At the Hallmark Visitors Center an exhibition of oil paintings by Winston Churchill was on display, along with the historical retrospective of the Hallmark history. For a field trip, drive on over to Overland Park Kansas to see their Overland Park International oriental outdoor sculpture park, which presents some conversation starting outdoor art on a circular path. Other museums on your list of must see might be the National Airline History Museum, complete with classic TWA planes, and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park.

After such an extensive long weekend I was very pleased to be hosted at the Hotel Phillips, in the middle of downtown, making easy accessibly to the Midland Theatre and the Kaufman Center. The Phillips is a step back in time to a grand era of hotel splendor exemplified by its mesmerizing lobby, of art deco excellence. The 1930’s sculpture of Dawn, a young lady riding the crest of a wave, is a welcoming symbol of the hotel. But don’t let the historic splendor dampen preconceived ideas of comfort, as the rooms have been expanded and renovated to modern excellence. It is certainly a hotel to recommend. Adjacent to the hotel is the 12 Baltimore restaurant, where I had some delicious, fast and courteous meals, not mention Jackie’s excellent Martini. (Not everyone can make a quality Martini, but she does.)
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Just down the street is the historic Drum Bar and Providence Restaurant inside the President Hotel, where I had a satisfyingly elegant dinner. You might also want to sample the food and beverage offerings at Extra Virgin at 4558 Main St. If you are not entertained in Kansas City you must not be trying, for as you can see, it can completely satisfy your desire for enjoyment.
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Before you go checkout: www.visitkc.com, www.HotelPhillips.com, www.airlinehistory.org, www.hallmakrvisitorscenter.com, www.unionstation.org, www.KCRep.org , www.opkansas.org, www.nelson-atkins.org, www.kcopera.org, www.nermanmuseum.org, http://providence-kc.com, www.theaustinbrown.com/about.html

With only a short visit to exciting towns, I like to stay within walking distance to its dining and attractions. Not having to rent a car at the airport has its advantages, and takes some of the stress out of vacationing. This is what I did when in Denver, Colorado recently, by making my home base The Residence Inn by Marriot at 1725 Champa Street. As it turned out I was in the middle of the downtown dining action I would take in. It was only a block or two, to catch the 16th street hop on and off trolley, saving steps and time.

At this Residence Inn, with the amenities of breakfast and a friendly wait staff I could leisurely start my day, after a sound sleep the previous night. In a walkable downtown like Denver, and with its trolley service to popular areas, getting around was much easier and congenial than driving in traffic, hunting for the locale, and then trying to secure parking. Plus walking in the mile high city is a great way to take in the altitude’s fresh air and work up a thirst. Of course this precludes snow falls, blizzards and subzero temps, which I was lucky enough to avoid for my November visit.
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One venue not to be missed is the historic Brown Palace Hotel. You need not stay the night, but a moment or two in the elegant Atrium Lobby is a treat. Another treat is to avail yourself of the food, service and ambiance of the Palace Arms and Churchill Bar. Here old world style is a natural and only surpassed by the culinary delights served by the experienced staff. European antiques and period artwork decorates the expansive room and includes a set of dueling pistols said to have belonged to Napoleon. An informative self-guided tour booklet is available for your leisure.
And then there is the view from the Peaks Lounge on the 26th floor of the Hyatt Regency, on 14th and California streets , where they offer a variety of cocktails (martinis of course my favorite) along with light appetizers and views of the city and its horizon of mountains. It is quite a popular place and while the seating might not match up to the demand, it’s worth a try. I came for a sunset, which in November almost seemed to set earlier than when Peaks was to open at 4 pm, but I made myself the first to be seated and paused for the sunset. The only disappointment was that the end of the room where the sunset over the mountains could have been seen best was blocked off for a later private party. It was a shame for this brief Denver visitor, but the libation concoctions were both delightful and promptly served. I do so dislike ordering an ice berg (frost on the pond) martini to have it set at the bar and warm up.
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The hard to get in, Green Russell underground bar in a speak-easy style bar, was a bit of a disappointment to my expectations. It was very much in demand, and my reservation was accepted, but with a bit of aloofness. What is amazing here is that the bartenders take their time and carve a block of ice into a globe for your drink. I was told it is to get the most chill for the drink without diluting it. I think it might also fill the glass so much so, that there is less drink in the drink. They have rules of no cell phones (great) and no standing, so you must reserve a table or place at the bar as I did. The Martini I had was exotically mixed with fresh herbs and press to order juices. So don’t be in a hurry. If you don’t like crowds in small places, this might not be your bar.
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For an atmosphere of the old world try the art deco of The Cruise Room, Denver’s original Martini Bar, in the 1891 Oxford Hotel near the Union train station. Venture into their imaginative appetizers while holding your Martini glass high and paying homage to another age. Under the 1933 art deco panels, inspired by the Queen Mary ship, you may toast your good taste in art and atmosphere with a White Cosmopolitan of Finlandia Raspberry Vodka, Cointreau, Lime and fresh white cranberry juice and follow it with a Bond 007 of Stoli Vodka, Bombay Gin with olive or Lemon twist, as I did. The Cruise Room won the prestigious Miami Art Deco Award in 1983, and might win your praises too.
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You’d think you might not be able to see straight from your weekend of libation sampling during your short downtown Denver visit. But after moderation, I suggest you see the Denver Art Museum with a current exhibition to accompany their permanent collection. I saw the very pleasing Becoming Van Gogh exhibition. On exhibition now through May 25th is a photography show called, “Seen Passing,” and through June 8th a show of Modern Master Icons of the 20th century. With a bit of planning you too can take in the best of downtown Denver in a short weekend; be it art, Larimer Square shopping or gourmet dining.

Before you go check out: www.visitdenver.com, www.brownpalace.com, www.residenceinn.com, www.theoxfordhotel.com, www.greenrussell.com, www.larimersquare.com.