Monday, October 13, 2014

Leaves, Apples and Wine, Oh My!


LEAVES, APPLES AND WINE, OH MY!
A GUIDE TO PLANNING YOUR AUTUMN LEAF-PEEPING TRIP

In autumn, in the Northern USA, autumn is a time for some Northerners to close their summer residences to snowbird in warmer climates. As they're leaving town, they pass by others who are headed north to enjoy the magnificent sights that the leaves. Read on to know what to know before you go (and plan).




1. Where to go:  Hit the public and national parks. Out West, parts of Northern California, Washington State, Upper Idaho, Montana and Oregon provide the landscapes that photographers drool about. Mountainous areas such as Tennessee, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Western North Carolina are all beautiful. In the Northeast, the sights are seen in New England, upstate New York, the Poconos of Pennsylvania and upper New Jersey. Of course, any backyard that has a deciduous tree will delight one's sense of sight, but these areas provide extra special backdrops such as mountains, lakes, waterfalls and small picturesque towns.



2. When to plan: Brilliant fall colors are dependent on various climate factors during the summer. Late August and early September give good indicators when foliage will reach peak colors and how vibrant the leaves will be. Cool summer weather might lead to less than fantastic colors. Hot wet summers, a gradual cooling September and later frosts might yield great color. A rainy windy and cold September might knock the leaves off sooner without them giving their full potential of color. Use a weather website and fall foliage maps to help you plan.


3. What else to do: After sightseeing, enjoy the areas where the leaves: farms, orchards, wineries, antique shops. Activities at local farms include u-pick-ur own produce, with hay rides, mazes, pumpkin patches, face painting, booths, homemade jam, cider and baked goods, hot corn and baked potatoes.


4. Farms thrive in many regions of the USA but somehow, the seasonal activities of the farms of New England, New York and Pennsylvania seem special. In New York State, visit the east end of Long Island and upstate. Bear in mind that we downstate folks consider any place over the Tappan Zee Bridge as Upstate, to the amusement of those who live in Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties. See below for some suggestions and enjoy!





In the NYC Metro area: 

~Lewin Farms in Calverton, Long Island is a huge operation. With over 1100 acres, it seems to dominate the LI scene but there are other farms. From May to October, you can pick berries, peaches, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and of course, apples. Because of the variety of produce, they have several locations, with the apple orchard in a different location than the farmstand. For the apples, they charge by the pound (whatever you can carry). You can bring your own bags and they sell the old fashioned wooden baskets.

~Nearby is Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, a fun filled vineyard (check the website for live music) complete with horse rides. Their Harvest 2014 season looks like it will last until January 2015! Combine Lewin and Baiting Hollow (with the nearby Tanger Outlets in Riverhead) and you have a day trip guaranteed to please all ages in the family.

Baiting Hollow is charitable as well as fun!


~Other farms in the area (and they will let you know by the homemade signs along the way) are listed on longisland.com



Instead of east, with NYC as a center point, one can head north. Tourists are surprised to learn that New York is a top agricultural producer, one of the top five states in the country. Just one hour out of NYC and you'll be in farm country (you see the Catskill Mountains looming ahead of you on I-87). 


Masker Orchards, in Warwick, NY, just barely over 100 years old, seems to have perfected the quintessential day in the "country" without having to drive too far from New Jersey, Long Island or NYC. You can picnic within the orchard and parking is a generous affair. There are "parking lots" but some areas of the orchard are wide enough for cars to park within the rows of the trees themselves. They charge a flat rate of 26.95 per bag picked (they provide the bags). On the bag itself is a map of the orchards (it helps to know your species of apples). There are apple picking poles around for the high branches but these were few.
Maskers Orchard: Family Fun Area (Editorial Use Only)

In the Family Fun Area was a full scale "festival:" country store, pony rides, haunted house, apple maze, face painting, pizza, apple pies, pumpkins, ATM machine (they do take credit cards, no Amex), and, hallelujah, rest rooms. By the way, be prepared to have your car checked for bootleg apples. They mean what they say about paying on your way out. No honor system here.


Maskers Orchard's Country Store (Editorial Use Only)

Further up Route 17 or I-87, depending on how fast you want to get there, are several in New Paltz. The benefit of these farms is the proximity to several vineyards, Minnewaska State Park and the charming town of New Paltz itself, with its funky college vibe and historical French Huguenot houses. Apple Hill FarmDressel Farms and Wilklow Orchards are all good. They don't seem as carnival-like as Maskers but they all have family fun.

In every region, be prepared for traffic galore. Between the outlets, vineyards, farms and every day life on the week-ends (school football games, etc), my suggestion is to be at the farm by 10AM. When you are ready to leave around 12 noon, you will see the crowd heading in and you'll be glad you got there early.

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All Photos Copyright Marcia Crayton, 2018. All Rights Reserved.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Cruise Ship Review: Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas

This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

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Royal Caribbean: Jewel of the Seas

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Most cruise lines advertise their biggest and most expansive ships. But always check out the other class of ships: they may have the time and/or itinerary you want. Keep in mind that the lower class ships may not offer all of the bells and whistles (bumper cars, etc). This is a review of a mid-class ship.



1. The d├ęcor featured blond wood grain interior.  Each landing on the staircases is highlighted with art. Glass elevators say the day of the week with a removable panel on the floor (a Royal feature) and a lit staircase rose from the lobby. 





2. The corridors were slightly wider than the ships of this class. They were decorated with pop American art, such as portraits or black and white photos of Hollywood stars. The staterooms were well-equipped. Like any other ship, the staterooms with a balcony will be slightly smaller.



3. The main dining room, Tides was divided into 2 levels: assigned dining on one level and the flex time diners on the other. The lunch buffet was sometimes better than dinner because an international theme is featured every day: Caribbean, European, Asian American.





4. Entertainment is included on all cruises: shows, live entertainment, a movie screen on deck (a recent upgrade) and an indoor cinema. 

5. The fitness room was spacious for a ship of this size. There is also a track (6 times around for a mile) and the usual spa.

12.

6. The pools were saltwater. When I sailed, the gift shop did not sell goggles but that may have changed. The excursion desk had snorkel masks for sale. 



7. The solarium is an adults-only area of the ship but the website mentions that during inclement weather, children are allowed. It was enclosed with a pool, hot tub, a pool bar and a food area that was open when the buffet was closed. Soft music helps to create a relaxing ambience.

8. Sports: The water slide and rock climbing may have restricted hours and it may be restricted in age. The basketball court is also used for other events. Featured is miniature golf and a golf simulator.




9. The usual kids' and teens' clubs are offered. Royal stated that if no one showed up within 15 minutes of an activity’s start time, the event would be cancelled. Adults are allowed in the video arcade.



10. The Safari Club is a nice place to be if you just want to lounge. This area included the Schooner, the Zanzibar lounge, the Congo bar, the Game Reserves and the Serengeti Card Club.


Sailing the top-notch ships is fun, but don't discount the smaller ships or a shorter itinerary. Some people like smaller ships because of there is less people. The staff will be professional, the amenities are increasing and you may save money. 

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 Disclaimer


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A "Band" New Day: Disney Magic Bands


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1. What are Magic Bands? The Magic Bands, introduced in 2013 and updated in 2015 are waterproof wristbands with a chip using RFID technology inside that can function as your admission ticket, your annual pass, your hotel key if you are staying in a Disney resort, your "credit card" in Disney (if you are at a resort) and also, your FastPass+. Got that? 


If you pre-order, your bands will arrive in the mail, now in a more discreet package then before




2. How do I get one? You will receive one when you book a Disney resort or buy an annual pass. It will be mailed to you. Your name will be inside. If you buy a regular ticket at the park, you get a plastic card but you can purchase a Magic Band and link the ticket.  If you already have one, you can decline the band when you book your resort online. If you don't customize it, you will get the standard gray color when you check in.


Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom): FastPass worthy for the kids


3. How do you use them? Simply touch "Mickey to Mickey." In other words, you touch the Mickey icon on the bracelet to the Mickey icon at the ride or cashier. The technology will read who you are and confirm your FastPass or charge your credit card for a purchase. A PIN is required for purchasing. 



Disney's All Star Resort: The Bands are your hotel keys

4. How do I link my information? Your info will be linked when you check in if you are staying at a resort. If you buy a band, you can link it through the My Disney Experience app. When you book a FastPass, the info links to your band.




Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom): Stand by and Fast Pass entrances

5. What else may happen with my Magic Band? Ride through it's a small world® and find out. There are limited edition bands that do extra effects when you use them or the band may indicate your status. For example, I am part of the Disney Vacation Club and my band turns a different color when I enter one of the parks.

The original Disney Magic Bands ® They will still work.



6. What happens if I lose it or it doesn't work anymore? The battery inside supposedly lasts for at least two years. My first one was still working after 4 years. You can go online and deactivate any Magic Band in your account.







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Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Coney Island: Sharing a local treat



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Coney Island Boardwalk
As per Wikipedia, Coney Island is one of the oldest amusement areas in the world. Seaside resorts, traveling fairs and carnivals, world's fairs along with the Industrial Revolution (resulting in rides) and an increase of the masses having money to spend on entertainment gave rise to amusement parks. Coney Island, being near the shore, was a natural location for NYC to have its own. One could say that Coney Island was one of the original staycations, easily accessible by subway from Manhattan yet far enough to feel like you're out of town, literally at the seashore, staying at one of the fabulous resort hotels that were popular in the mid to late 1800s.
The Cyclone
The name Coney comes from the Spanish "conejo," which means rabbit. Apparently, the peninsula was full of the little bunnies until development limited their numbers. "Coney" was a nickname that stuck.

Popular before World War II, Coney Island descended into almost a delicious seediness, where only hardy NY locals would dare to go. Nathan's, the famous hot dog stand, the Cyclone, one of the grandfathers of all roller coasters, the Deno's Wonder Wheel and the inactive 1939 World's Fair souvenir, the red Parachute Jump managed to survive despite the disintegration of the 1960s and 1970s. New York State may not have the best of everything but we do have almost one of everything and city folk in particular patronize the beach and enjoy the boardwalk with the best of them.
Surf Avenue
Meanwhile, an entire community built up around the resort area, complete with houses, housing projects, schools, churches and supermarkets. Street names like Neptune, Surf and Mermaid pay tribute to the seaside theme, but make no mistake, Coney Island is a real neighborhood and a vital part of NYC.

Coney Island limped along until the 1980s revitalization started. Despite the fact that it can seem like one big business, Coney Island was always actually several independently owned parks, the most famous seemingly being Deno's, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park. You can read about the process on Wikipedia, but now, 30 years later, thanks to local politicians and developers, the area is a hot spot.
The new Thunderbolt, Coney Island (editorial usage)
Locals, however, are not giving it up to the tourists so easily, however. NYC can promote it to the out-of-towners all it wants but Coney Island belongs to us, always has and always will. When you visit, just remember you're in our house and our rules apply. But don't worry, there is plenty of NYPD to keep everyone in line. The place seems to be even more alive after dark: with everything lit up and the noise of the games spilling out onto Surf Avenue.
Nathan's Famous
You can make a day or weekend of coming to this part of Brooklyn. Get there early, and visit the NY Aquarium. Still rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy, there is enough to do and enjoy while you interact with marine life and learn about conservation. Next, stroll down the street and take in a few rides. The amusement parks still operate old school: admission is free and you buy tickets (or books of tickets) to ride the attractions. Old and new games are there, also: bring lots of cash, they are not as cheap as they used to be! You'll find Luna Park, Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and more! Comprehensive info can be found at Coney Island Fun Guide.
Soaring Eagle
Believe it or not, the sideshow still exists. I've never been in to see if there really were freaks of nature, but take a chance if you dare and enjoy a relic of the old carnivals. You can also visit a museum dedicated to "defending the honor of American popular culture!" Coney Island USA.
Wonder Wheel (trademarked, editorial usage)
Cut through the parks and head to the famous boardwalk, immortalized in many movies, including the building in the film Two Weeks Notice at 21st Street and the Boardwalk. Warning: NYC waters never really warm up, our season is too short, but the Parks Department is making an effort to keep the beaches clean and you are guaranteed to be totally entertained by the locals. It's never boring. Official season is Memorial Day to Labor Day for the life guards and they mean it. In the winter, dare to dive in with local polar bear clubs, especially on New Year's Day.
The Boardwalk
When you get hungry and thirsty, this is the best place to fall so far off your diet that you have no choice but to walk it off on the entire boardwalk. Custard ice cream, seafood, candy, popcorn and all sorts of interesting drinks tempt you along the boardwalk and Surf Avenue. Of course, the most well-known is Nathan's Famous. Many New Yorkers will not eat Nathan's anyplace else. Somehow, it tastes better down here. However, the other spots are just as good, particularly since Nathan's can seem slow and the lines can be very long.
MCU Park (editorial usage)
In the evening, take in future sports stars at Municipal Credit Union (MCU) Park and cheer on the Brooklyn Cyclones, one of our local minor league baseball teams. Like any other sports venue, you do not have to be a sports fan to enjoy an outing at the ballpark. With the mascot running around and all the fun things in between innings, a minor league game becomes quite intimate. The park is smaller, the players are accessible and the crowd is fun. It is certainly cheaper.
Williams Candy Store, next to Nathan's, Surf Ave

Afterwards, stroll back to Williams Candy store and take home one of the famous candy apples or get some more ice cream.
Subway Station
Getting there: the old BMT lines, now known as the MTA F, Q, N, D trains will take you to the area. The main buses would be the B36 and B68. By car, it gets a little complicated and parking between June and September is ridiculous, but for a small fortune, you can park in privately owned lots without running out to the meter every 15 minutes.

So, come on down to our very own seashore resort area and take a few moments to enjoy yourself.

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use