Friday, August 27, 2010

2 More Beach Weeks Left -- NYC Beach Escapes

The pre-Labor Day forecast is for the return of 90 degree weather, and that means one thing: beach time! New York City offers a bunch of beach permutations from tar beaches (apartment building roofs) to grassy park areas (Carl Schurz Park and Central Park) to the real deal, a wide sandy beach with lots of body-surfing waves.

Don't have a car? Grab a subway or a bus and take a look at these:

Coney Island Beach, Brooklyn
If crowds don’t bother you and you want a distinctive beach experience, Coney Island is the beach of choice. The three-mile beach has people (lots of people), sand, surf, playgrounds, and courts for basketball, handball and beach volleyball. Thrill junkies will have a blast on the rickety Cyclone rollercoaster or on the tacky rides at newly opened Luna Park. People watching on the boardwalk is even better than sitting on the crowded sand -- grab a hot dog from Nathan's or something from one of the Russian restaurants on Brighton Beach just a way down the boardwalk, find a spot, and watch the many ethnicities of New York saunter by. It's a real New York experience.
BUS: B36, B64, B68, B74, B82, X28, X29, X38.
SUBWAY: D, F, N, Q to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue; F, Q to West 8th Street-NY Aquarium; Q to Ocean Parkway.

Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn
For a relaxing afternoon of sun, surf and beach volleyball, go to Manhattan Beach on the southern tip of Brooklyn. Not as busy as Brighton Beach or Coney Island because fewer tourists know it, Manhattan Beach is a good choice for sun, surf and beach volleyball. On the southern tip of Brooklyn, you'll find the beach as well as nearby Manhattan Beach Park with two baseball diamonds for a pick-up game, as well as handball, basketball, tennis and volleyball areas. There are concession stands so you won't leave hungry.
BUS: B1 from Brighton.
SUBWAY: Take Q Train to Sheepshead Bay Road. B49 to Cheapside to Oriental and Hastings Street.

Rockaway Beach, Queens
Rockaway Beach is further removed and can feel almost lonely in areas. With a 10-mile long boardwalk, the beach is great for strolling, too, and there are seven playgrounds, skating areas and volleyball courts. Surfers, take note: this is the only beach near NYC allowing surfing with designated zones between 67-69 streets and between 87-92 Streets. Surfboards can be rented on the beach. Grab lunch at Ciro’s Pizza.
BUS: Q22 from bus terminal on Archer Avenue.
SUBWAY: A to Broad Channel then shuttle train.

Orchard Beach, the Bronx
Located at the end of a long, winding path, in an area with lush vegetation, Orchard Beach is harder to get to, meaning that it is less crowded than the more touristy choices but still packed with locals. There are 26 athletic courts for basketball, handball and volleyball, as well as two playgrounds. The central pavilion has food choices and shopping.
BUS: Bx12, Bx29, Bx5, Bx52, and Westchester Line number 45 serve the park. During the summer, take Bx5 and Bx12 to Orchard Beach. During the winter, take the Bx29 to the City Island Circle and walk to the beach.
SUBWAY: Take the 6 line to Pelham Bay Park. Connect to bus (see above).

Wolfe’s Pond Beach, Staten Island
Wolfe's Pond, like Staten Island, seems very very removed from the center of New York City. In a park setting, the manicured beach also has two tennis courts, a roller hockey rink, basketball courts and a playground. Another rarity, it also has dog-friendly amenities including an enclosed dog-only area. Several trails run through the beach and park, and there are BBQ areas as well.
BUS: #78 to Tottenville. Get off at Cornelia and Highland Blvd, walk up Cornelia. SUBWAY: Take Staten Island Transit to Huguenot Avenue, then walk toward Highland Boulevard.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Food Halls Are All the Rage in Manhattan: The Plaza and Eataly

Earlier this summer, The Plaza Hotel introduced a new culinary attraction for city foodies: The Plaza Food Hall. Conceived by Chef Todd English, host of the PBS show Food Trip with Todd English, the upscale food court is a European-style market offering an extensive array of stands. It’s large by New York City standards – 5400 square feet – and takes a bit of searching to locate in the concourse level of the hotel. With Executive Chef Mike Suppa, English has created a panoply of choices for anyone of any age: seafood at The Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar, Asian-American at the Dumpling Bar, a Sushi Bar, and The Grill with a something-for-everyone menu of burgers, steaks and salads. If that isn’t enough, there’s a bakery, a cheese and charcuterie counter, a wine bar with tapas, and a stone hearth pizza oven. And, yes, cocktails are served, too. Guests enjoy all this in the spacious 80-seat space, complete with marble counters and a mosaic floor that create a European food-hall ambiance. Prices are a moderate $10-$30 per meal. Takeout goodies are equally enticing with coffee, teas, jams, spices and sauces all for purchase. Just in time for Central Park’s free movies week, you can buy a Food Hall picnic basket too loaded with your gourmet faves. The Plaza Hotel, 768 Fifth Ave. (at Central Park South), open 7am-10pm Sunday –Thursday, 7am-11pm Friday & Saturday. 212-986-9260.

Eataly, restauranteurs Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali's newest humongous 50,000 (approx). square foot food venture, opens August 31 on West 23rd Street near Fifth Avenue. Watch for details.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Free Movies in Central Park -- Central Park Film Festival August 24-28

It's time for another New York-centric event: the eighth annual Central Park Conservancy Film Festival showing free movies all week long. This isn't a festival about New York City attitude; it's a showcase of "Iconic New York" films, films with standout NYC locations and sights.

Tuesday, August 24: Fame (1980)
The musical Fame, with so many of our favorites 80s songs, follows four New York City High School for the Performing Arts students from auditions to graduation. 134 min.

Wednesday, August 25: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
A recent remake of the original 1974 fear-inducing thriller, the movie spotlights a New York subway train dispatcher who must reason with armed subway hijackers. In an updated twist, hostage passengers communicate by laptop computer. Denzel Washington and John Travolta star. 106 min.

Thursday, August 26: Saturday Night Fever (1977)
A Brooklyn youth (John Travolta) escapes his family and work life troubles by dancing at the local disco and being king of the dance floor. The views of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge are as stunning asTony Manero's white suit. 118 min.

Friday, August 27: King Kong (1933)
In this cult classic stop-motion animation film, a giant gorilla, wrongly taken from Skull Island to Manhattan, attempts to possess a beautiful blond actress. The film that spawned a cottage industry of King Kong imposters at the Empire State Building. 100 min.

Saturday, August 28: Manhattan (1979)
Woody Allen's romantic comedy chronicles the love life of a twice-divorced writer as he courts a high school student and eventually falls in love with his best friend’s mistress. Manhattan at its most romantic. Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. 96 min.

What You Need to Know: Gates open at 6:30pm, with screening at 8pm rain or shine; all movies are close captioned. From 6:30-8pm, a guest DJ will spin tunes. Pick up a "Picnic Basket To-Go" at Le Pain Quotidien's in-the-park location at Mineral Springs; if you've forgotten your blanket, you can buy one there as well. No alcoholic beverages, glass bottles, chairs, plastic tarps, video cameras, tape recorders or flash cameras allowed.

Location: Just north of Sheep Meadow in Central Park, behind Mineral Springs (at 69th Street; enter Park at 72nd Street).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food Truck Festival on Governors Island -- September 5

For those of you who joined me at Brooklyn Yard's May Food Truck Festival, we have another reason to celebrate. On September 5, Parked takes over Governors Island at Colonel's Row. All our faves will be there from the Jamaican Dutchy Truck, Hallo Berlin, Vietnamese barbeque, key lime pie, Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, pizza and about 15 others. Go hungry, be prepared to wait in humongous lines and enjoy. You can get there via free ferry from Manhattan. More details soon.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tampa Bay Rays: Florida Fancation in Tampa and St. Petersburg

It’s South to Florida for our next installment in the Fancations series of vacations. Welcome to Tampa and St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays

Painting: Salvador Dalí, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening­Hope!, 1940 © Salvador Dali Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, Florida, 2010

Baseball Stop: Tropicana Field , domed home of the Rays. Named the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly the Devil Rays), the team is actually based in St. Petersburg, Florida.

As if the name weren’t enough, the 1.1 million square foot Tropicana Field screams Florida. Whether you’re enjoying the 900-foot tropical-themed ceramic mosaic walkway (the largest outdoor ceramic mural in Florida and one of the top five largest in the US) or the live cownose rays in the 10,000 gallon tank behind right center field (you can feed them throughout the game), you know that you’re in the Sunshine State. Initially built in 1990 as the Florida Suncoast Dome, Tropicana Field seats 43,772 visitors. The stadium feels a bit like attending a Cirque du Soleil performance with its funky dome, but even funkier is walking across the outfield as you exit at the end of a game. I haven’t found any other stadium that lets you do that! I almost felt like I was in “Fever Pitch,” the movie. Don’t expect a quiet game here; fans ring cowbells at home games, cheering on the 2008 World Series team. This was certainly a fun experience and highly recommended. There are multiple food outlets for stadium staples like corn dogs and grilled sausages, or Florida’s own Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos, with TV screens thoughtfully placed nearby so you can watch games of competing teams as you eat and drink. Ticket prices are reasonable with most ranging from $40-$140. Ninety-minute tours can be arranged for $9 (less for children and seniors). For more baseball history, Tropicana Field’s Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fames honors Ted and other baseball legends including Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. Tropicana Field, 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 888-326-7297;

If you can tear yourself away from the Rays, there’s much more than baseball in greater Pinellas County. Tampa and St. Petersburg together offer lots of fun vacation activities for all ages.

Be a Beach Bum: With its beautiful white sand and crystal –clear blue-green water, Fort De Soto Park clearly deserves TripAdvisor’s “America’s Top Beach” ranking. Enjoy the natural beauty at this unspoiled park where there are no hotels or restaurants in sight. Features include a 238-site family camping area, two large swim centers at the North Beach Swim Center, a food concession area, two fishing piers (one on Tampa Bay and one on the Gulf), a canoe trail, and even a dog park.

Open daily from 7am to sunset. 3500 Pinellas Bayway South, Tierra Verde, FL 33715; 727-893-9185;

Get Soaked: Adventure Island, part of the Busch Gardens collection of family theme parks, will give you a full day of water thrills and spills to help you stay cool. Float down a lazy river, chill by the wave pool (or jump in with your life jacket), or tube down any number of corkscrew waterslides. Wear water shoes and a bathing suit, with somewhere to stash some soggy dollar bills, and you’re all set for a great day of fun in and out of the sun.

The water park is open from mid-March through the end of October (check online for exact dates and times) and has something for all ages. 10001 N. McKinley, Drive, Tampa, FL 33612: 888-800-5447.

Swirl, Sniff, and Sip: If you love wine, unleash your adventurous side and try some tropical, citrus, and berry wines at the Florida Orange Groves Inc. and Winery. Ever tried mango wine or key lime wine? You can try them here. Visit the winery for tours and tastings Monday through Saturday from 9am-5pm or Sunday from 12:30pm-5pm. Tours are at 11am, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.
1500 Pasadena Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL, 33707; 1-800-338-7923

Jazz It Up: Start the weekend off right and enjoy the sounds of live jazz in the beautiful glass Conservatory at the Museum of Fine Arts. The Summer Jazz Series will run through August 27 each Friday from 6-9pm. Grab a bite at the new MFA Café or a drink at the bar and enjoy the Florida night on the terrace overlooking the bay. Admission is $10 for members and $15 for non-members and includes admission to galleries in the Hazel Hough wing.

Table reservations are suggested for dinner and can be made at 727-896-2667 ext. 259. 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, FL 33701; 727-896-2667.

Get surreal: Visit the most comprehensive collection of Salvador Dalí’s work outside of Spain. Marvel over a changing exhibit of 96 oil paintings, more than 100 watercolors and drawings, and 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures, and objects d’art. I particularly loved the Dalí botanicals which I had never seen anywhere else. Bring the entire family to try a surreal scavenger hunt or to “Dalí Fun Saturdays” for games, puzzles, and craft activities now until the opening of the new twice-as-large Dalí Museum (January 2011). “Dalí Fun Saturdays” are free with museum admission and run from 11:45am-4:30pm. For a more romantic touch, visit the museum on Friday evenings (5:30-8:30pm) through the end of August for the popular summer happy hour series, “Surreal Fridays.” Enjoy music, tours, and silent films along with a cash bar, cigar bar, and complimentary tapas for half-price admission ($8.50). On Sundays, have a true mind-body experience with “Inspire Yoga at the Dalí” from 12:15pm-1:30pm. Classes are held in the Community Room or on the front lawn (overlooking the waterfront), and both beginners and experienced yogis are welcome. Don’t forget your mat or towel. The cost is $10 for members or $15 for non-members.

Open daily; Mon, Tues., and Wed. 10am-5:30pm; Thurs. 10am-8pm; Fri. and Sat. 10am-5:30pm; Sun. 12pm-5:30pm. 1000 Third Street South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. (727)-894-6068.

Welcome Chihuly to Town: Be one of the first to visit the Chihuly Collection, opened last month, in a permanent 10,000 square foot setting at the Morean Arts Center. See the magnificent large-scale installations that have made Dale Chihuly famous and marvel at the new Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, created specifically for the collection at the Morean Arts Center. The collection includes some of Chihuly’s more popular series: Macchia, Ikebana, Niijima Floats, Persians and Tumbleweeds. Docent-led tours are available every half hour on the quarter hour starting at 10:15am. After viewing the spectacular pieces in the collection, see how it’s all done at the Glass Studio and Hot Shop within the center to watch a glassblowing show.

Open daily; Mon., Tues., Wed., Fri., and Sat.10am-6pm; Thurs. 10am-8pm; Sun. 12pm-6pm. 400 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. (727)-896-4527.

Sleep: When staying in St. Petersburg, there’s one hotel that stands out as a true classic: the striking, pink Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club. The Mediterranean Revival-style resort, honored with a place on the National Register of Historic Places, membership in Historic Hotels of America, and AAA Four-Diamond status, continues to provide guests with the same luxurious experience and Roaring ‘20s aura as it did when it was built. Happily the resort was renovated in 1992 and again in 2009, and it’s as grand as it ever was. Now with 360 rooms including a new tower, the Vinoy features include a private marina, a grand ballroom with a Dale Chihuly chandelier of 750 pieces of glass, heated pools, health club, a 12-court tennis complex, a spa, four restaurants and a lounge, and an 18-hole par-72 golf course. Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe stayed here, probably sipping an Aymer’s Promenade Punch or two on the resort’s expansive front porch. Mounted on two walls in a dedicated area off the lobby, the gallery of Vinoy history (1901-2005) is a museum unto itself.

501 5th Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; 1-888-303-4430 or 727-894-1000.

Eat: Embrace Florida’s deep Spanish history and enjoy tapas at Ceviche, located within the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Menu highlights include the gambas Romesco (sautéed jumbo shrimp with roasted tomato, garlic, almonds, and sweet red peppers), codillo De Cordero (braised lamb shank in Rioja red wine sauce), and the Paella Valenciana (lobster, scallops, shrimp, squid, chicken, and mild chorizo). Try any of the delicious Spanish and Portuguese wines from the extensive wine list. To continue the party after the fabulous food, head down to the basement in to the restaurant’s Flamenco Bar. 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; 727-209-2302.
On Sundays, the only place to be is at Marchand’s Mediterranean Market in the Renaissance Vinoy for a truly fabulous brunch. From 10am-2pm, indulge in any of the seasonal fresh fruits, fluffy pancakes, oatmeal brulée, Chef’s prime choice meats, fresh seafood, and wonderful desserts (the chocolate fondue fountain is a definite favorite). 501 5th Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; 727-824-8072.

Shop: For us ladies, we’re never at a loss for something fabulous to wear, and now men can feel the same. Daniel’s, a men’s haberdashery, recently opened around the corner from the Renaissance Vinoy and the Morean Arts Center. The shop prides itself in offering exceptional one-on-one service for all the visitors or southern gentleman out there. With brands such as Peter Millar, Ike Behar, Southern Tide, and Allen Edmond shoes, men will find whatever they need to look their best on the greens, at any of the museums, or for Sunday brunch at the Renaissance Vinoy. 400 Beach Drive (Suite 181), St. Petersburg, FL 33701; 727-498-8805

Coco Brazil, a neighbor to Daniel’s, offers the best in women’s Brazilian fashion. Shoppers are sure to find one-of-a-kind pieces ranging from casual to glamorous at Coco Brazil. The boutique is the exclusive retailer for Morena Rosa, Maria Valentina, and Zinco. Let the warm Florida sun fool you into thinking you are actually in South America while looking fabulous in a piece from Coco Brazil. 400 Beach Drive (Suite 161), St. Petersburg, FL 33701; 727-821-1212.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Boston and The Lenox Hotel: Opening Day, Massachusetts Fancation

It’s baseball season! By now, all of you know that I’m a passionate baseball fan and an especially passionate Red Sox fan, having grown up in Massachusetts. This article continues the posts begun last year with Baltimore and Chicago baseball trips, or “Fancations” as I have dubbed them, trips to destinations built around going to a baseball game. My mission, together with my son Elias, is to visit every one of the 30 Major League baseball stadiums within the next several years. I welcome your comments and suggestions as Elias and I set out on our travels.

You can’t win all of them, but your choices can sure improve the odds. On my most important Fancation of the year, Opening Day at Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play their rivals, the New York Yankees, I chose to stay at a historic hotel within walking distance from Fenway Park, the lovely Lenox Hotel. A member of Historic Hotels of America with a storied history dating back to 1900, the 214-room hotel distinguishes intself on many levels: it’s beautiful and classy, the rooms are graceful and lovely, the food at its City Table restaurant is surprisingly exciting and varied, and the service is five-star.

From friendly greetings by the doorman and valet, to the lovely ladies at reception, to the exemplary concierges, there are no slip-ups. Everything is the way you want it to be with anticipatory requests for newspapers and snacks and welcome-back hellos. You immediately feel like you’re a valued part of the Lenox Hotel family. I’ll take that over an impersonal hotel with larger rooms any day.

And speaking of rooms, my corner suite was gorgeous with a colonial brass chandelier hanging from a ceiling mount, beautiful window treatments and cushy beds. Local newspapers were provided and WiFi is free. Bottles of water are also free, very considerate in my opinion as you are encouraged to use the hotel’s fitness center or meander along the streets exploring Boston and Cambridge.

Two standout employees deserve recognition. Jason Lloyd, the concierge from Los Angeles, is a superstar in the making, well on his way to earning Clefs d’Or distinction. Peter, who greeted me each day at the door, always inquiring how he could assist me, never wanted recognition but was at-the-ready to help with anything I needed. I could have been one of the hotel’s more famous guests who had enjoyed long-term stays at the hotel, like Judy Garland, Babe Ruth and Red Auerbach, but it was just me. And it didn’t matter. I was as important to them as anyone else.

I loved City Table restaurant and its adjacent City Bar . The restaurant offered a wonderful selection of small plates and main courses with something to appeal to all from lobster rolls to a slider selection plate (short ribs, burgers, and lobster rolls) to meatier fish dishes and steaks. And the lively Irish bar down the front stairs served up pub grub in a setting that’s about as authentic as you can get in the US: Sólás was built in Liverpool and shipped to Boston in 1966. All three bars were well stocked with wines, bourbons, beer and tequilas helping to calm down Rex Sox-inspired wins or losses and were open reasonably late, something sometimes hard-to-find in Boston.

For a Fenway vacation or TD Garden event, the Lenox sits in a perfect spot, near enough to the Amtrak station, for an easy car rental from Enterprise or Avis, or to the "T," Boston’s subway system. It’s also luxe and quiet without trying to be what it’s not, trendy, sceney, or hip like its new Mandarin Oriental or Taj neighbors.

During baseball season, now through October 3, there’s a Red Sox “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” package that includes two stellar tickets to a sold-out Red Sox home, luxurious accommodations for two, and a special Red Sox snack amenity. Starting at $550 up to $975 when the Yankees are in town, the package is a super deal – just try to get those Red Sox tickets on your own. I love it!

If you want a five-star holiday where “everybody knows your name,” the Lenox is your kind of place. It will be mine for a very long time. Lenox Hotel, 61 Exeter Street, at the corner of Boylston Street; Boston, Massachusetts 02116, 617-536-5300 or 800-225-7676.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Family Travel in Paris

Say oui to summer in Paris, the city of lights and the city of love. Music, art and sport moves outdoors in the summer and hotels offer enticing packages for traveling families. So grab a croissant or baguette on the Champs-Elysée, grab some euros and hit the metro:

Gymaholic: Take a break from the Stairmaster and instead climb nearly 1000 feet high in the Eiffel Tower. The 19th-century icon is a must-visit site with not-to-miss views. If the weather is warm, take a baguette, pâté and a bottle of red wine to the grassy area beneath the tower for an impromptu picnic. Do this in the evening, when the tower is illuminated for five minutes every hour by 20,000 light bulbs. For those who love to cycle, Paris offers the Vélib system, its bicycle transit system. Rent one of the city’s available bikes and explore the city on your own. After purchasing an access card, the first half-hour is free, and the rates are very reasonable. There are plenty less highbrow diversions to enjoy in Paris, especially at Paris-Plage, the beach on the Seine. Palm trees, huts, hammocks and around 2,000 tons of fine sand on both banks of the Seine bring a seaside vibe to the city. There’s a floating pool and a lending library too.

Prince/Princess: It’s indisputable that the Palace of Versailles has some of the world’s most incredible gardens, and you can fancy yourself Marie Antoinette as you wander through them. Whether you’re at the Orangerie, a favorite of Louis XIV, or viewing the fountain spectacles that play to music, you’re sure to be wowed by this incredible spot. After a beautiful day of exploring the gardens outdoors, check out some of the equally amazing things indoors such as the Hall of Mirrors, composed of 357 dazzling mirrors, or the Hall of Battles, a long room depicting France’s greatest battles. You may even be able to catch an equestrian performance.

Music lover: Solidays, Rock en Seine, Festival des Inrockuptibles and the Techno Parade all attract top acts. The Parc Floral de Paris holds weekend concerts in the summer. Grab a blanket and some snacks and relax outdoors to the music. Dates will be posted on the website

Ice cream lover: Paris's Gothic masterpiece is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame . Damaged during the French Revolution, the cathedral has been restored to magnificent effect. Climb from the north tower to the south to appreciate the masonry, and get a close-up view of the gallery of chimeras, the fantastic birds and beasts gazing over the balustrade. Afterwards, cross the road to Berthillon, on 11 Louis Street, to sample the most celebrated ice cream in town. Its reputation has been growing since 1954 thanks to natural ingredients, lashings of cream and a host of delicious flavors. Make sure to check opening times so you won’t be disappointed.

Fashionista: Just shop. Right Bank, Left Bank, it really doesn’t matter. You can look for sales whenever you visit or bite the bullet and just know that you’ll be bringing home some of the most forward-thinking designs in the world. Look for labels like agnès B, Vertigo, Morgan de Toi, and Barbara Bui for the best of the best. Be sure to walk down the warren of streets on each side of the Seine to find the boutique that matches your style.

Literary fan: If literature is your thing, Paris is the place to be. After a day of strolling the beautiful streets of Saint Germain des Pres, slip into a chair outdoors at two of the most famous literary landmarks in Paris: Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. Les Deux Magots is where James Baldwin met with Richard Wright while in Paris, and was one of the favorite haunts of Hemingway, Breton, and Camus. Café de Flore is right next door and is equally close in fame as it was a favorite of Durrell, Sartre, Capote, and Hemingway.

Some of the city’s finest hotels are offering family packages to help ease sticker shock through the end of the year:

Concorde Hotels: If you’re traveling with the kids this summer, the “Family in Paris” package offered by the five Concorde Hotels in Paris is truly fantastique. The package offers accommodations for two in a double room, 50% off a second room, a daily breakfast buffet, an exclusive Paris family guide, and a special kids welcome and mini-bathrobe. Select a hotel based on its proximity to your favorite Parisian landmark or tour the city and stay at a few different ones! The hotels include Concorde La Fayette, Hotel Concorde Opéra Paris, Hotel du Louvre, Hotel Lutetia, or Hotel Concorde Montparnasse The package starts at $230 per night and is valid through August 31. For more information and to book this package, call 800-888-4747 or visit

Hôtel de Crillon: This Leading Hotels of the World property is one of the most elaborate hotels in Paris, full of rich history and culture. Louis XV commissioned its design and the hotel is especially impressive with its walking proximity to the Champs-Elysées, the Louvre, and many more Parisian landmarks.

Le Crillon is offering a lovely package until the end of the year that will allow you and your family to experience Parisian luxury at its finest. The family package starts from 1055 Euros and includes two connecting superior rooms (the second room is discounted 50% for the package), Continental or American breakfast, an upgrade in a two bedroom suite based on availability on arrival, and great gifts for the kids. Kids receive a “lucky bag,” white balloons, fruit juice, cookies, an elephant cuddly toy, and a coloring kit. If you’re traveling with a baby, the hotel will also provide an in room blanket, elephant, and baby kit. For stays 5 nights or longer, a kid’s lunchbox is included, as well. +33 1 44 71 15 01

Hotel Fouquet's Barrière
: This property is also a member of The Leading Hotels of The World and takes on more of a 21st-century Parisian palace feel. The hotel also has a terrific location at the corner of Avenue George V and Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

HFB’s “Very Important Planet” package showcases its philosophy about sustainability, responsibility and community, the first Parisian palace to be awarded a 5th star and to obtain a triple ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification for service quality, environmental commitment, and safeguarding human rights and children’s rights. The package starts at 990 Euros and includes accommodations in a superior room or suite, a fitness breakfast for two, one 50-minute natural oil treatment in the U spa per person, organic lunch at the hotel’s Joy Gallery for two, VIP eco-friendly welcome amenities, and carbon off-setting (through the non-profit company “Action Carbone”). The package is valid through December 28, 2010. +33 1 40 696 040.

Cristal Champs-Elysees: For a more modern approach to staying in Paris, head to the Triangle d’Or (Golden Triangle) and stay in the recently opened Cristal Champs-Elysees. Designed by architect Philippe Medioni and Swiss designer Mattia Bonetti (who also assisted with the design of the fabulous Mark Hotel here in New York City), this hotel places great emphasis on its sleek yet colorful design. The hotel is located only two minutes from the metro and the RER line A, so exploring Paris has never been easier.

This summer, the hotel is offering a special on 3-night stays from July 16-September 2. Regular rates usually run from 159 euros to 540 euros per night (depending on room category), but rates run from only 143 euros to 259 euros during this special. +33 (0)1 45 63 27 33,

Monday, August 9, 2010

Packing Tips from An Expert: Never Check Luggage Again

Travel and Food Notes welcomes guest blogger and freelance travel and food writer Jeanine Barone, the expert when it comes to packing the smart way.

There’s no doubt about it that packing for a trip has become nothing but one big frustration. First there were the charges for checked luggage – but, I never check luggage, even when I’m on the road for 6+ weeks. Then there’s the soon-to-debut new carry own charges that Spirit Airlines will be imposing. The only free thing that will be allowed on board is a personal item that measures 16”x14”x12”. To me that was the last straw. So when I had to buy a ticket on Spirit Airlines recently, even though the new fees were not in effect, I decided I would do a test run and subvert their system. Since I was going on assignment in Alabama and Georgia for six days, I carried onboard only a purse.

You’re probably thinking the only way I could do that was to wear the same outfit every day. Wrong. Watch the slideshow below of all the outfits I pulled out of that purse that measured 15"x14"5". Well, they weren’t all in the purse – I wore a lot of them on board: 7 tops and 2 pairs of pants, to be exact. Sounds hilarious but if that’s what it takes to get around a ridiculous $45 charge for a carry-on, so be it. And I didn’t look like the Michelin Man nor was I hot on the plane. In fact, you’d never know that I was layered to the hilt. And, because I'd be running around the cities during the day, visiting museums, parks and gardens and meeting public relations people, and going to nice restaurants and bars at night, I had clothes that worked for all these occasions. Check out the slideshow and see for yourself:

Of course, this all required quite a bit of pre-trip planning. The clothes are all light weight, neutral colors that mix and match well, many are high-tech fabrics that are wickable and dry quickly when washed, they don’t require ironing and many have pockets galore. (In fact, if you add up the pockets on my photo vest, pants, hoodie and scarf, I have a total of 18 pockets!) Yes, even my scarf has pockets. It’s a special scarf called the XUBAZ with four hidden pockets that I bring on all my trips to carry my valuables because, after all, who’s going to steal a scarf? Among the companies who manufacture the high performance clothing I love are: Mountain Hardwear, ExOfficio, SmartWool and Icebreaker.

Most of the dresses come from a small New York City-based boutique called Pookie & Sebastian . No, their fabrics are not high-tech, nor were they made of merino wool, like the Icebreaker dress I adore. But they are light weight, they pack small, they don't wrinkle and they paired well with other high-tech items I brought along. Plus, they fit with my color scheme. And, because I love clothes that are convertible, e.g. pants that become shorts or long sleeve shirts that become short sleeve, I especially loved the black dress I packed that transformed into at least three different dresses as well as a blouse that I could wear with my tights.

Other ultra-light packing tips: I bring little in the way of toiletries because I can grab some at the hotel. All the toiletries I do bring are in sample sizes. I don’t carry my laptop which just weighs me down anyway. Instead, I find Internet cafes or I use the business center at my accommodation. I’ve rarely had a problem finding computer access when I’m traveling. My itty bitty black purse that I packed with my clothes contained my notebook, pens, credit cards, money, and camera. (It has several deep zip compartments that fit all these items.)

The three zip lock bags you see in the slide show were divided this way: one contained liquids such as shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, first aid gels/liquids like cortisone cream and anti-itch ointments; one contained makeup (a luxury for me but I had room, so why not), and the third had vitamin supplements plus non-liquid first-aid supplies/toiletries, such as band-aids, blister pads, gauze, toothbrush, and dental floss.

On my trip, I was expecting warmish days and cool nights, so I had layers that would work for almost anything: from hot days to even cold nights. (I carried a small, light weight Mountain Hardwear rain jacket draped over my arm in case of rain -- but this isn't pictured in the slide show.)

The only shoes I brought were the ones on my feet, by Keen . (They’re in black, of course.) They're comfortable for lots of walking during the day and they work well at night too.

Packing everything in a purse probably won’t work for everyone. But I found it a very freeing experience. Just think, no lugging or wheeling around bulky pieces of luggage that slow you down. No lost or damaged bags, and no waiting around for half an hour or more for your bags to arrive. Instead, you just step off the plane, run through the airport and hit the road in your new destination with just your purse in hand.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Atlantic City Getaway: The Chelsea Hotel for the Weekend

Vegas is too hot this time of the year, but Atlantic City gets you the the glamour, the shows, plus a dose of salty ocean air and sand. The Chelsea Hotel is a great new beach boutique offering a weekend getaway from the heat, with a 5th floor pool and cabanas, saltwater-inspired spa, fireplace lounges, two signature restaurants, and a fitness center. It's also the first non-gaming hotel on Atlantic City's Boardwalk, and we think that's a good thing. Two two-night packages for two people are being offered through August 31 so you can have a five-star escape from our five straight weeks of heat. And prices are pretty chill, too-- they start at $432 and $233 respectively:

The “Luxe Weekender” package includes:
  • Early check-in on Friday
  • Access to the Fifth Floor pool deck
  • Exclusive VIP beach service with towels, lounge chairs, and sun umbrellas with private set-up
  • Cocktails for two
  • VIP entrance to C5, inside the Cabana Club
  • 2 Passes to the Solarium, the co-ed social hydrotherapy center at the Sea Spa
  • In-room WiFi
  • Valet parking
  • Accommodations in a Chelsea Luxe Room
The “Annex Weekender” package includes:
  • Accommodations in an Annex room, with retro accommodations updated with new beds and linens
  • Early check-in on Friday
  • 2 poolside cocktails
  • Cover charge to C5, the inside of the Cabana Club
  • Exclusive VIP beach service including towels, lounge chairs and sun umbrellas with private set-up
  • In-room WiFi
For more information and reservations, visit or call 1-800-548-3030.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Little Night Music: Oh What a Night for Send in the Clowns

My obsession with this show and especially with "Send in the Clowns" continues. Please take a look at these two videos -- the first a teaser for Bernadette Peters' rendition of the song -- how I wish it were the complete song. And, the second, an amazing compilation of versions of the song by leading divas as performed by impersonator Carly Sakalove -- this one is truly inspired! Come join me to see her on August 30 at Jim Caruso's Cast Party at Birdland. She'll be singing all her Divas Live songs.

Scroll down to hear Judi Dench -- tell me which one you like best. I'll publish the results soon. And, if anyone wants to see the show with me, I'll happily go again.

First Bernadette:

Then Carly:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New York City Welcomes Car-free Saturdays in August – It’s Summer Streets Year 3

Saturday brings my favorite part of the summer --- when cars are banished from Manhattan (limited area) so cyclists, bladers and pedestrians have the run of the streets (literally). Starting August 7, from 7am -1pm, and continuing on August 14 and August 21, don your helmets, grab your bikini, and head for the streets. The route connecting East 72nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, down Park Avenue onto Lafayette Street is yours for the taking with no four-wheel vehicles in sight. Part of NYC’s green initiative, Summer Streets was introduced to promote outdoor recreation and eco-friendly transportation.

At four rest stops at Uptown, Midtown, SoHo, and Foley Square points, you can take grab a free fitness class, dabble in arts and crafts. rehydrate, enjoy a concert, and more, with activities designed for all ages and special productions from Fringe NYC.

This year’s most anticipated addition – swimming -- lets you cool off in places you’d never have imagined, actual city dumpsters. MacroSea, the company that introduced last year’s dumpster swimming pools to Brooklyn is bringing their slightly off-center concept to Manhattan’s Summer Streets, again creating swimming pools out of dumpsters (clean and unused shipping containers, so no worries). Located near the Grand Central viaduct, the pools, with decks and supervising lifeguards, are open to all free of charge. Bracelets will be distributed with time-specific slots on a first-come, first-served basis.

Don’t have a bike or a helmet? Free bikes and rollerblade rentals, as well as free bicycle helmet fittings, are available at specific rest stops. But you’ll need to remember your bathing suit and towel, as these are not provided.

New this year as well, you can join Joy Ride, a group bike ride set to music. The creation of theater artist Liz Sherman with music by Grammy nominee Duncan Bridgeman, Joy Ride meanders through the city on the three Saturdays of Summer Streets starting at 11am from Foley Square. The endpoint is Central Park at Cedar Hill where you’ll picnic on the lawn. You’ll need to have a bike and a set of speakers or earbuds (you wear only one to comply with NYC laws) to enjoy the ride. To register for this special event, sign up at The number of riders is limited to 50 on each date.

All Summer Streets events are easily accessible by subway, N-Q-R-J-Z to Canal Street or the 4-5-6 to anywhere on the event’s route, by Metro North to Grand Central, by LIRR to Penn Station, or by bike. Just leave the cars behind, please.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Power of Broadway: A Little Night Music

I've been seduced, this time by Stephen Sondheim. I don't love everything that he's written but I've just discovered "A Little Night Music" for the first time (remarkable, isn't it?). And now given Bernadette Peters' astoundingly flawless and meaning-filled performance of "Send in the Clowns," I'm really torn: Is her performance the best or is Dame Judi Dench's still one of the most powerful? Take a look at this video from the BBC (1996) and judge for yourself. And, if you haven't seen the play, don't miss this one. The new cast with Ms. Peters and Elaine Stritch makes missing Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones much less tragic. The play is at the Walter Kerr Theater, 218 W. 48th Street, New York City. Tickets via

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pilates in Central Park with James Darling -- Sunday Classes

There’s nothing that I like better than working out on the weekend especially when the workout is outdoors with a dose of laughter thrown in. Pilates (P) in the Park, known affectionately as P in the Park is led by James Darling, instructor extraordinaire whose original sense of theatrical teaching will keep you smiling through the burn. The sessions are donation-based, with half of the suggested $10 donation going to the Central Park Conservancy. For one hour, under a tree on the Great Lawn, you’ll work on increasing flexibility, toning, and strengthening. Bring a mat, towel and water and be prepared to sweat. Classes meet by Cleopatra’s Needle, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on Sundays at 10:15am. Contact James at for additional information and to RSVP.