Monday, August 30, 2010

The Big Easy

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, and with the BP oil spill catastrophe still playing out, New Orleans may not be at the top of your list of vacation spots. But I've decided to make my small contribution to restoring the vibrancy of this special place by participating in the tourism trade that has long been its life blood. And despite what you may have heard to the contrary, tourism is booming in NOLA. It is estimated that there are hundreds more restaurants than there were before the storm, and that more than three quarters of the tourism jobs that existed prior to Katrina have been restored, even in the midst of a horrible recession. In short, billions of dollars have been spent to repair this city and billions more are being spent by travelers enjoying this one-of-a-kind American city.

Now you may think of N'awlins as being an adult-only experience, and its nightlife reputation is not overstated. But there are plenty of things for families to do as well. For example, the Audobon Institute Park and Zoo is an oasis just beyond the urban center of Uptown New Orleans. You can take a lovely streetcar ride to the park and spend a whole day there. Audobon also operates the Insectarium on Canal Street, and the Aquarium of the Americas right on the Mississippi River. Is there anything kids love more than bugs and sharks? And be sure to hit City Park as well, right in the heart of town. There's an antique carousel (you know how I feel about carousels), a miniature train, and a bayou running right through it. And for Mom and Dad, the park also houses the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, and the Botanical Gardens. The latter has the largest stand of live oak trees in the world. A live oak is one that does not shed its leaves in the fall and winter, providing much needed, year-round shade to this beautiful park.

But of course, I am not traveling with children and will be staying up very late at least a few nights. You'd need about a hundred years to eat at all of the great restaurants and take in all of the live music here. My plan is to spend some time at the more famous places like Commander's Palace, The French Market, and Brennan's (best breakfast ever), and then branch out into the neighborhood joints. This is where much of the post-Katrina restaurant action has been focused. You can find everything from po' boys to panninis, gumbo to vichyssoise, and everything in between. And if live music is not provided onsite, you don't have to walk far to find some. It seems to come up out of the cracks in the sidewalk in this town.

While in New Orleans, I am renting a timeshare at Avenue Plaza. It's located in the heart of the Garden District (a must see) and directly on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. So you can forget about your car for a while and really take in the town. On site, the spa offers herbal wraps and therapeutic massages, exercise equipment and whirlpools, a courtyard with a pool, a rooftop sundeck and hot tub, and a restaurant. You can find a studio rental here for as low as $83/night, and own for as little as $399.

Well I need to go rest up for my Moonlight Graveyard Tour with the Crescent City's own Bloody Mary. New Orleans is loaded with above ground cemeteries (known as cities of the dead) and lots of voodoo and black arts practitioners. I don't know about you, but I love to get the bejeezus scared out of me, and an above ground cemetery at night led by a real voodoo priestess is just what the doctor ordered!

Monday, August 23, 2010


RoundupAugust is one of those months that seems to creep up on me every year, and then slip away just as quickly. Maybe it is because it lacks a major holiday, or that as a child it meant that summer was ending and school would soon begin. Whatever it is, August has a feel like no other month. Primarily hot, but something less tangible too. Hey, did you know that other than leap years, no other month will start on the same day as August? I just learned that on Wikipedia so it must be true. Seriously though, look on your calendar and note on which day of the week August begins (Sunday in 2010). Then scan the other eleven, and you'll see that no other month begins on that day. Neat, huh?

August is also a time of plenty. From tomatoes to corn, peaches to early apples, and all sorts of things in between, fresh fruits and vegetables seem to be abundant pretty much wherever you go. State and county fairs typically take place in August as well. If you've never been to yours, you should check it out. County fairs and carnivals, no matter where they are, harken you back to a simpler time. Check out the 4-H animals, feast on some cotton candy, and hop on a tilt-a-whirl that looks like this ride will surely be its last. Or take in a summer festival, like the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, OH, the Newport Jazz Festival, or even the Belly Dance Festival in Snowbird, UT. I don't normally miss that last one, and even participate in the amateur open event. But I am still nursing some injuries I suffered in a bull encounter in Pamplona earlier this year, so I'll have to skip it.

Or maybe just take one final getaway at a timeshare rental before September arrives. You could hit a ski resort town like Whistler, BC or Stowe, VT, and enjoy the mountains, lakes and streams, sans the crowds typically associated with these destinations. Or how about Maui? Sure it's hot, but it's hot where you are too, right? You might as well be hot in Hawaii. But if the heat is a deal breaker, how about a Las Vegas timeshare vacation? It's probably 120 degrees outside, but you'll be too busy inside casinos, theaters, galleries, museums, and five-star restaurants. As for me, I am packing my bags for the Hyatt Grand Aspen in Colorado. Our members give it five stars, and I cannot wait to see for myself. Something tells me the county fair in Aspen is going to be more of a sushi and goat cheese affair, rather than BBQ and sweet corn, but we'll see.

By the way, August is National Goat Cheese Month in the U.S. as well as being Psoriasis and Cataract Awareness Month. You gotta go goat cheese there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

City by the Sea

No, not that gritty cop flick with Robert DeNiro, the other "City by the Sea": Newport Rhode Island. Also known as "Queen of Summer Resorts" and "America's Society Capital," Newport's origins date back to 1639. And if its various monickers haven't given it away, it is a beautiful seaside resort and summer playground of the highest of high society. In addition to having one of the largest collection of Colonial-era homes in the U.S., its Guilded Age mansions are among the most opulent found anywhere in the country. But there was a time when Newport nearly lost these treasures to neglect and decay. As is often the case, the rich and famous found trendier summer spots and abandoned the shores of Newport. But thanks in large part to the restoration efforts of billionaire philanthropist Doris Duke, Newport saw the restoration of both the Colonial and Guilded Age homes of this seaside jewel. She did accidentally run over and kill her interior designer while restoring her own home, but generally speaking, it was an unmitigated success.

Some other things Newport is know for, which you may or may not know, are hosting the America's Cup race, the Newport Folk Festival (where Dylan was vilified in '65 for playing electric), the Newport Jazz Festival, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and Redwood Library, which is the oldest lending library in the country. Did I mention the mansions? I mean, you've really got to see these things. There is a 3.5 mile walking trail called the Newport Cliff Walk, which offers stunning views of the Atlantic to one side, and the lifestyles of the rich and famous to the other. Basically it is free public access to the front yards of some of the swankiest digs ever built, as well as a nature and hiking excursion. Be careful though, there are places just off of the trail with sheer drops of over seventy feet to the rocks below. Gawk and then walk in those spots, is my advice. You can also tour many of the mansions for a fee, which seems like a cruel joke in a way, but I'd recommend the Breakers if you had to pick just one.

While in Newport, I am staying at the Wyndham Long Wharf. This place is right in the heart of the downtown and wharf areas, so it is close to everything you want to see. It features heated indoor/outdoor pools and whirlpools, a private surround-sound movie theater, 24-hour fitness center, game room, and laundry facilities. I'm in a 2-Bed/2-Bath unit with a full kitchen. You can rent one on RedWeek for $127/night, or own here for $3,500 - $4,000. Our members rate it 4 stars, and you might want to add it to your posting alerts to learn when new units become available for rent or sale.

Another Newport nickname I failed to mention is "Sailing Capital of the World," and I am off to enjoy a "dark and stormy" schooner sail. Let me clarify that there is not a hint of rain in the forecast. A dark and stormy is a local libation held in the highest regard, made from Bermuda's Goslings Rum and spicy New England Ginger Beer. It is served aboard the Adirondack II on a sunset sail of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. I am a devout landlubber mind you, but they had me at Bermuda's Goslings Rum.

Monday, August 9, 2010


That's Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the eastern tip of Cape Cod, in case you didn't know. Originally inhabited by the Nauset, this is the place that the pilgrims first came ashore from the Mayflower. In fact, the Mayflower Compact was authored and signed in this very harbor. But the pilgrims moved on to nearby Plymouth, and Provincetown saw fishing and whaling become its primary activities for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It had a pretty wild and crazy reputation for a time there. Think Jersey Shore meets Deadwood. But as the whaling dried up, the Portuguese sailors who crewed many of the whaling ships settled here permanently. They, and their descendants, laid the foundation for a more permanent town, and their contributions and influence can be felt to this day.

By the turn of the twentieth century, P-Town was booming. Artists, authors, actors, and dancers began to make it their summer home. The Provincetown Players were established in 1915, and count Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill are among its alumni. Along with the arts, and its patrons, came a broader acceptance of different lifestyles. Specifically, open homosexuality. Today, Provincetown is a mecca for a booming gay and lesbian travel industry as well as a straight, family-friendly destination, and everything in between. Basically, it's a place where people from all walks of life come for a seaside retreat and simplyto enjoy themselves. Oh, and Mother Nature puts on her show here too. From pristine beaches to whale and bird watching, the Cape Cod National Seashore is a natural treasure. Race Beach offers one of the few spots on the East Coast where you can watch an ocean sunset, which I greatly enjoyed being from the West Coast myself.

While in Provincetown, I am staying at Eastwood at Provincetown. It has absolutely everything you need for a great seaside vacation, as well as close proximity to downtown and its colorful attractions. RedWeek members rate it 4.5 stars and I'd have to agree. You might also want to check out Harbor Hill for a great Provincetown timeshare rental. And as an inside tip, the beach crowds die down quite a bit in early September, but without turning into a ghost town, if you know what I mean.

Well, I am off to Commerce Street for some serious people watching. A regular parade of drag queens, cabaret performers, jugglers, dancers, and more make their way around entertaining the crowds. I also hear that there is some pretty serious karaoke around here, and I just might have to stretch out the old vocal chords and give it a shot.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Oregon, that is. If you've never been to this resort town at the edge of the Pacific, you should make plans to visit sometime soon. Seaside sits at the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail and is a national landmark. The Corps of Discovery made camp here in 1806 in order to make much needed salt to cure meat for the long journey back East. In the 1870s, Ben "the Stagecoach King" Holladay built a summer cottage here, which he dubbed "Seaside House," and from where the city gets its preset name. The cottage, now the site of the Seaside Golf Course, was reported to accommodate up to 125 guests at a time. Fortunes came and went, but Seaside has remained a summer getaway for Portlanders and world travelers alike. Its 250 foot wide beach is the most heavily used of any beach on the Oregon Coast. And the 1.8 mile promenade or "Prom", as it is known, provides an excellent opportunity to stroll and take in the natural beauty of this place.

Hey, did you know the tallest douglas fir tree in the world was discovered in Seaside? Yep, in 1962 the clatsop fir was declared the king of coastal firs, measuring 200 feet 6 inches tall, and 15 feet in diameter. Unfortunately, a Pacific storm blew through just a few months later and knocked the giant down. The tree was estimated to be 702 years old, which would have made it a sapling during the time that Kublai Khan took the reigns of the Mongol Empire. Are you kidding me?!

While in Seaside, I am staying at The Resort at Seaside by WorldMark. This is a beautiful resort, located right on the Prom (see what I did there?), with shops and a restaurant on the first floor, heated outdoor pool, whirlpool, and a "reactive" fountain for the kids to play with. I'm in a 1 bedroom oceanfront unit that sleeps four. Looks like you can get a similar unit for as little as $114/night. There's also a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom unit for sale at an asking price of $6,500. RedWeek members give this place 5 stars, and I can see why. Sign up for a posting alert and be notified as units become available for rent or sale.

Well I am going to go get in a little beach volleyball practice. That's right, I am a beach volleyball enthusiast and Seaside happens to be home to the largest amateur tournament in the country. Over 700 teams compete each August to see who will be crowned champion. The tourney is in its 29th year and I am hoping to catch on with a team that needs the services of a slow-footed, but crafty, veteran of the "old school" variety. A Cinderella story in the making. Or, I might end up back in the hospital like after my bull encounter. Hmmm, I'd better check my out-of-pocket on my health insurance first.