Sussex County NJ: Four Seasons Resorts and Fluorescent Rocks Galore

WHY GO: Rock hounds already know about Sussex County NJ. New Jersey’s Northwest region claims the largest concentration of fluorescent rocks and minerals in the world. You can see a critical mass of these glowing objects at a decommissioned zinc mine, which is now an indescribably awesome museum complex.

But you can also hike part of the Appalachian Trail, adventure on water, snow, ropes, and bikes, golf, ski, zip-line, run rapids, try some hooch at Sussex County’s first distillery, tour one of the largest wine cellars in the country, or do nothing to your hearts content on this World of Wonders NJ Getaway.

What to Do in Sussex County NJ

Mountain Creek Water Park Whitewater Vernon NJ

ADVENTURE: Mountain Creek Resort. A four-season playground, Mountain Creek draws over 650,000 people annually to its myriad components. Inch by inch, Mountain Creek is taking over Northern New Jersey’s adventure parks. Years ago, it swallowed up Action Park’s Water Park, and added its own hugely popular white water rapids downhill tube rides, in addition to heart-stoppers like “High Anxiety” (22 water rides in total), and turned the Alpine Slide into a more secure railed coaster.

Tubing Mountain Creek Water Park Vernon NJ

Last year, Mountain Creek incorporated Great Gorge’s Golf Course and built a state of the art Ropes Course, also, on the property. It owns The Appalachian at Mountain Creek, and the Red Tail Lodge next door (see under where to stay).

TreEscape Mountain Creek Vernon NJ

The new (as of May ’19) aerial adventure park, TreEscape, has courses rated like ski trails (green, blue, black) with 110 obstacles and climbing elements that thread throughout trees in a dense forest. After a quick safety orientation and securing your harness for a practice run, you’re escorted to one of ten ropes courses that best suit your abilities. Repeat customers tend to up the challenge each time they return.

The Ski Resort has 46 trails, four peaks, nine lifts (servicing 1,040 vertical feet) on 170 acres. With abundant snowmaking (with water drawn from seven mountaintop lakes), over 300,000 people per year get an earlier jump on the ski trails. An additional 30,000 come for the snow-tubing park.

Mountain Creek Coaster Vernon NJ

In spring, summer, and fall, the hill turns into a world-renowned mountain bike course, bringing an additional 30,000. Skiers and mountain bikers haul their gear up the hill on “cabin” lifts – open gondolas that can transfer a larger number of people than traditional chair lifts.

Wedding Way Mountain Creek Vernon NJ

But there’s another segment of the population that ascends to the summit, (some say to the “scariest trail in the country”) – brides and grooms. With singular stunning unobstructed views of three states from a mountaintop, “Wedding Way” is also one of the most popular places to get married.

Appalachian Trail Boardwalk through marsh and fields in New Jersey

Appalacian Trail Boardwalk, Glenwood NJ

HIKE: The Appalachian Trail Boardwalk and Stairway To Heaven Trail, Vernon. The most popular hike in New Jersey, this part of the AT is easy and flat for 2.5 miles. If you just want to do the Boardwalk, park on the side of Route 517 near the trailhead. The 1.4-mile Boardwalk meanders over wetlands, giving you ample time to commune with birds, frogs, Cattails, and other swamp flora and fauna as you make your way up and over a cool wooden suspension bridge.

Appalachian Trail NJ Wooden Bridge

The trail continues for a mile through a cow pasture before crossing Route 94 – the start of the strenuous climb up 840 vertical feet. This is the Stairway to Heaven portion of the hike – a lung-expanding ascent to rock ledges and observation points atop the mountain.

Mounted bear diorama at Stoke State Park NJ Office

Stokes State Forest Visitors Center Branchville NJ

HIKE: Stokes State Forest, Tillman Ravine, Sunrise Mountain. Stop first in the Ranger Station/Welcome Center for advice on where hike and what to see in this 16,500 acre State Forest. You can rent kayaks, fish and camp here as well.

Tillmans Ravine Trail Stokes State Forest NJ

The 1.5-mile looped Tillman Ravine Trail takes you into a narrow red shale and sandstone gorge along rushing river water, through tangled brush and by stands of hemlock trees and banks of blooming Rhododendrons in early summer.

Rocky trail on the AT in New Jersey leads to Sunrise Mountain

Sunrise Mountain Path NJ

Unless you are a thru hiker on the AT or want to spend a few hours hiking, drive up through a long stretch of woods to the Sunrise Mountain trailhead. There’s a short ¼ mile hike that takes you over bedrock crosshatched by striations left there from the end of the last ice age, when receding glaciers gouged deep grooves in the land. The short trail leads to an open Pavilion and overlook. Views are breathtaking.

Mulit-tiered waterfall in Delaware Water Gap NJ

Buttermilk Falls Delaware Water Gap NJ

WATERFALL: Buttermilk Falls, Layton. Within the New Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap, you need not get out of your car to see one of the tallest tiered waterfalls in the State. You can climb slippery wooden stairs to the top, should you need a leg stretcher, but the best views are from the road below.

Peters Valley Craft School Delaware Water Gap NJ

VISIT: Peters Valley School of Craft, Layton. This craft school is a hidden gem, nestled within the Delaware Water Gap on the NJ side (a great stop when you’re heading to or from Buttermilk Falls).

Peters Valley Craft Gallery Delaware Water Gap NJ

Tourists will find an abundance of hand-made ceramics, fiber art, jewelry, fine metal, and other crafts in a colorful retail Gallery. But you’re also invited to stay for 2-8 day classes (includes housing and dining in a communal dining room) in everything from blacksmithing to weaving. There’s even a “Business Bootcamp for Artists.”

HIKE/EXPLORE: Kittatinny Valley State Park, Andover Township. A State Park like no other, Kittatinny Valley boasts three unique features: a lake, an airport, and 3 Rail Trails. To boot, an abundance of unique flowers and plants (over 700 species) thrive in wetlands, glacial lakes, vernal pools and forests due to Sussex County’s heavy concentration of limestone and resulting alkaline soil. Multi-acre fields comes alive with swarms of butterflies by day and “silent sparks” (fireflies) galore on summer nights.

Kittatinny State Park Visitors Center NJ

The breath of-fresh-air Kittatinny Valley SP has 75 miles of trails and intriguing programs to get you out on them – no matter what level of couch potato you are – thanks to Lynn Groves, Resource Interpretive Specialist. There’s no stopping Groves’ enthusiasm and creativity.

Kittatinny State Park Lake-NJ Fire Service Runway

Groves hosts “nature tours,” obviously, and other “interpretive programs.” One of the most popular is the 8:30am 2.7 mile Wednesday Walk (free), which entices upwards of 50 mostly retired people per week year round to get up and get going. There are “Bark Buddies” walks (bring your dog! Free), and Rid-Litter Day Walks (free).

But it’s activities like “Hike To Happy Hour” – 3 miles with Beer and Pizza at the end, just $5, the 4 mile “Walk to the Winery,” $5, “Bike To BBQ: Double S Smokehouse,” and the like that will really get your juices flowing. These are novel (and very popular) ways to get people active, connected, and fed. Join a group, or pick up a walking or Rail to Trail Map in the Visitors Center. Open daily 9-4. Though not confined within Kittatinny, the 27 mile Paulinskill Valley, 21-mile Sussex Branch Rail, and 3 mile Great Valley Rail-Trails are managed by and considered “part of” the Kittatinny Valley SP.

TOUR: Sterling Hill Mining Museum, Ogdensberg. How extraordinary is this under-the-radar attraction? So extraordinary that the venerable Museum of Natural History in NYC is interested in featuring its defining element – a thick slab fluorescing rock – in a stand alone room within an upcoming $325 million expansion.

A zinc mine from the 1700’s to 1986, Sterling Hill is now being run as an Educational Foundation, with 40,000 students from elementary school to college age discovering the unique properties of minerals here. Civil Engineer/Adjunct Professor of Engineering Geology, Bill Kroth, serves as President, Executive Director and sometime-guide.

During its WWII heyday, when 500 employees put their backs into it here, the Sterling Hill complex seemed more like a railroad yard than a mine. “You’ll never see a piece of zinc,” says Kroth. “It doesn’t occur as pure metal.” A 5-story crushing plant was perched at the top of the hill, smashing zinc ore to powder. The powder traveled by conveyor belt, dropped into four massive drums (all still standing), and was emptied into train cars below. The raw product was shipped to Pennsylvania, where it was processed into the metal we recognize as zinc.

Historically, zinc was added to copper to fashion brass and for galvanizing iron and steel to prevent rust. The Sterling Hill mine, 2,700 ft deep (two Empire State Buildings) was threaded with 35 miles of tunnels. In the early 1900’s, the miners learned about the unique property of these rocks quite by accident. At the dawn of the electric light, they used a “knife-blade” switch, which caused a spark. This spark illuminated the walls, which glowed a ghostly green. Over the years, nearly 370 minerals were discovered here, 80 of which fluoresce; rendering this area unique in the world (thus the interest from the Museum of Natural History).

Kroth takes great delight in shocking kids with scientific facts and artifacts, hoping to “spark” an interest in geology and the sciences, just as he was as an eight year old setting his eyes on a fluorescing rock for the first time. The Sterling Mine complex is made up of several “museums” based in former offices and worker’s quarters. In the basement of the Geotech Museum, Kroth is quick to point out “Dinosaur Poop,” a huge hit with grade schoolers. He explains how we know about the Earth’s core (from the core of other planets – meteorites), and what it does (protects us with a force field), and explains why metals don’t just “stick right out of the ground.”

You’ll see all manner of fluorescing wonders inside the 3-room Thomas S. Warren Museum of Fluorescence –where pure light seems to emanate from within each rock. If you’ve been awed by stones bathed in Black or UV Light, you’ll be even more so by those illuminated by the Short Wave light employed here. There is a significant difference.

The Mine’s main museum space, the Zobel Exhibit Hall in the former “Dry House” (where wet clothes would be lifted to the ceiling to dry), is crammed with extraordinary objects, collections and artifacts. You’ll find one of the world’s best Periodic Tables (an incredible Science Fair resource, especially since the website offers a free interactive version), the stunning Oreck Collection of blingy, multicolored minerals and crystals from around the world, and a piece of the meteor that fell on a car in Peekskill NY on October 9, 1992.

And yes, a tour will bring you into a portion of the mine, where you’ll learn about blasting and tough conditions. However, that foray seems a bit anticlimactic after gazing on what came out of it years ago. This attraction is well worth an afternoon – and should be a destination for all. Open daily 10-4 (in winter, weekends only), with public 2 to 3 hour tours at 1pm, $12 adults, $9 kids.

 

VISIT: Sparta Historical Society Museum at the Van Kirk Homestead, Sparta. This is no stale and stuffy museum: it’s a vital, enjoyable, beautifully presented and relevant collection of local history, thanks to zingy women like Nancy Madacsi, Joyce Simmons, Renee Ferguson and Maryanne Francisco, who bring life and intelligence to this small place. Built in the late 1700’s, the Van Kirk family lived in this two-story homestead until 1996 when most of the property was sold to the Sparta Board of Education to construct the behemoth Middle School right next door. The Historical Society was able to save and restore the Van Kirk house, with a 365-year- old White Oak Tree – the second oldest in the state – shading its roof.

 

The Sparta Historical Society Museum has benefited from a curator’s eye – and that curator is Museum Director Jack Clark, who was formerly the Director of the Bruce Museum in my own hometown of Greenwich CT (the one that I spent days upon days in as a kid in the 60’s and 70’s). That this small organization was able to tap the expertise of such a stalwart of the Museum community speaks to the quality of its exhibits and enthusiasm of its members.

There’s a well-preserved Stereopticon in the downstairs Victorian Era Parlor with, as the ladies told me, “some pretty risqué pictures.” I would have looked at the dozens of “3-D” photographs, noted the naughty ones, and “toured the world” as they did in the 1890’s, if I’d had the time. (P.S. – make time to do this).

Upstairs, in the Sparta Gallery, some of the documents and photos depicting the history of the town are mounted on black slate from an old church. Though the area around Sparta was best known for its mines, quarries and taverns, by the mid 1900’s tourism was on the rise. Resorts sprung up along Sussex County’s many lakes, including Lake Mohawk, which sported a boardwalk that is still there (though the resorts closed).

I was quite taken with several items on the second floor. I loved the ingenious fully mobile bookshelf/desk used by itinerant teachers who traveled throughout the county. I could not comprehend how the little polka dotted red dress, mounted in the Children’s room and worn by Mary Owen in 1930 (shown in photo below it) was so well preserved. And I was most intrigued by an original Honorable Discharge Certificate for one Morgan Hart, who must have served exceptionally during the Civil War, as he was asked to accompany the body of President Abraham Lincoln on Lincoln’s Funeral Train. After Hart’s death, this decorative document was presented to his widow, and remains in beautiful shape. Open only the 2nd and 4th Sunday of every month from 1-4 or by appointment.

Painted Barn Market The Shops at Lafayette NJ

SHOP: The Shoppes @ Lafayette. Formerly an outlet mall, this small “shopping village” was flagging until new owners stepped in. Now, all that remains from its outlet days are Van Heusen, Bass, and Maidenform. All other stores are independently owned – including the pretty gift-shop, Lynn’s Boutique, and The Painted Barn Market & DIY Workshop (where you can paint your own signs).

SHOP/FARM: Windy Brow Farm, Newton. Who wants to try Taylor Ham flavored ice cream? This is probably the only place you can get it – but of course there are more traditional and fantastic choices. Windy Brow Farm (named for its windy location in the brow of a ridge) operated as a dairy farm in the late 1800’s, but is now known for its superb apples and varieties of peaches (pick your own), plums, cherries, apricots, and unique foods. And that includes ice cream that tastes like something you’d put on your Easter Table.

TASTE/SHOP: Milk Street Distillery, Branchville. Milk Street Distillery owners, Gordon and Mike Geerhart, were “in construction” before opening this labor of love in this blink and you’ll miss it town. Their skills were obviously put to good use. The tasting room, carved from the shell of a 125-year-old building, with burnished hard wood floors and reclaimed-red-barn-wood-bar topped with a lacquered slice of tree trunk, is striking.

As pretty as the tasting room is, the cocktails – just $8 each – are even better, showcasing the house-made Black Vulture Vodka and Wooden Leg Rum to perfection. $8 for tour, 3 ½ oz tastings and shotglass. Open Fri. 4-8, Sat 1-7, Sun 1-6. Though no food is served, you can bring your own, and the local pizzeria delivers.

WALK: Lake Mohawk, Sparta. Promenade along the boardwalk that traverses Lake Mohawk. The whole town has the appearance of a Swiss Village – and this was by design. You’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled into a European Alpine lake town.

Where to Eat in Sussex County NJ

Lorraine’s Cake Shoppe and Tea Room Lafayette NJ

EAT/LUNCH/TEA: Lorraine’s Cake Shoppe and Tea Room, Lafayette. Lorraine Perry was a homemaker who “loved to bake.” And so, for her second chapter at age 47, Perry attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City: getting up at 3am to hop a bus five days a week for six months. She did several stints in area resorts, including Crystal Springs where Perry was a pastry chef. But she wished to open her own bakeshop and tearoom: a goal that she achieved in 2017.

Set inside a beautifully landscaped brick home, Lorraine’s is a sweet romance novel of a place. Pin lights, crystal chandeliers, furniture, and mismatched china and teapots that she picked up from tag sales and Habitat for Humanity set the scene for an amazing meal.

Sweets at Lorraine’s Tea Room Lafayette NJ

With emphasis on the food rather than the tea, you are in for a culinary celebration, especially if you go for the full “Queen Amelia” treatment ($29), which includes Tea, Quiche, Soup or Salad, Two Scones with clotted cream and citrus curd, Four Tea Sandwiches, Assorted Petite Pastries, and a Plated Desert.

Though you can scale it down to the “Princess Luci” ($17), for tea, scones, tea sandwiches, and cookies, Amelia provides the best opportunity to gaze upon and graze on some of the prettiest and tastiest foodstuffs (e.g. cheddar-chive and coconut lime scones, s’mores cake) I’ve ever had in a formal afternoon tea. RSVP Necessary. Sittings at 11am and 1:30pm, Wed-Sun. Options range from $17-$29.

St. Moritz Grill and Bar Sparta NJ

EAT: St. Moritz, Sparta. The first restaurant built in the 1930’s when Lake Mohawk and its surrounding plaza was constructed, St. Moritz was a happening place. Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole played here. Celebrities and celebrity hounds would make the then 2 1/2 hour trek from New York City after dinner, arriving here at 1am for drinks and the scene.

Over the years, St. Moritz went through name changes and owners. In 2012, Keith Holmes bought the Sparta landmark “right before Hurricane Sandy.” Within days, the power went out and “we had to throw out all the food.” Holmes was overwhelmed with gratitude when week after week post-Sandy, “people from the community poured in every Friday night to support us.” St. Moritz remains one of the most popular restaurant in Sussex County. Signatures include Wood-fired Salmon with Crispy Leeks ($25.99) and Chicken Schnitzel ($20.99), but if I lived closer, I’d return again and again for the addictive Sweet & Hot Calamari – lightly fried with the perfect blend of honey and kick.

EAT: Mohawk House, Sparta. I’m still trying to decide where to fit this 350-seat restaurant, built from hyper local resources. Should it be listed in “Where to Eat,” or “Things To Do?” Because it’s worth seeing even if you just pop in for a look. Steve Scro and his wife, Rachael, had a vision, which in 2005 culminated  in this Adirondack-style structure (that should not be confused with Mohonk Mountain House in New York), built out of Patterson NJ brick, fieldstone from surrounding land, reclaimed weathered wood floors from a nearby mill, and filled with furniture made by local artisans: touches of Sussex County in each room. “We built with our hearts,” admits Scro.

The Scro’s also own a big Sussex County farm, and procure ingredients and goods from forty other nearby producers and artisans – from farms, ranches, breweries, and woodworkers. Their famous 10-Mile Burger (all ingredients sourced within ten miles) was featured on the Food Network. Water Buffalo meat and cheese comes from Green Acres Wantage, turkeys from Waterwheel Farm (Mohawk House does a major Thanksgiving business), and other purveyors arrive each day in pickup trucks laden with fresh wares. Scro is known for establishing first contact with local purveyors, in fact. He reached out to the Geerhart Brothers at the brand new Milk St. Distillery before they even had a chance to call him, much to their amazement.

A destination restaurant, the food is innovative and sometimes downright brilliant: the likes of Alligator Pad Thai ($16), Seared Blue Crab Cake ($14), Ginger Beer, Orange Roasted Chicken ($28), and works of art like the Trio of Mini Cheesecakes. Happy hour is a party every day in the soaring bar area, where 56 – yes 56 – craft beers are on tap. Steve feels fortunate to be in the position to both support and feed his community. And it’s not a stuffy place. “You can come in a three piece suit or in a t-shirt after mowing the lawn.”

EAT: Krogh’s Brew Pub, Sparta. Across from the Lake Mohawk promenade, what is now Krogh’s was built in 1927 as a Trading Post (and is on the National Historic Register). The Fuch’s family purchased the Bavarian/Swiss-style restaurant 36 years ago, hiring chainsaw carver, Brett McLain to design dramatic wooden doors and interior chairs as heavy as iron, giving the room a sort of Viking appeal. Krogh’s added an on-site brewery in 1998 – the first Brew Pub in Sussex County. Now, it’s a landmark and people come from all over the world to wander the Germanic-looking village, stepping inside for a fantastic burger, hot Panini, a pint or flight of excellent brews (the most popular – Red Ale) and perhaps a growler. 7-Flagship Sampler (2 pints total), $13.

EAT: Krave Cafe, Newton. Locals rave about Krave. You’ll find this little gem in a strip shopping center next door to a Quick Check. Food is as fresh as could be, very good, and reasonable priced. Try the Black Bean Quinoa Burger ($11), Beef Short Ribs ($20), Chicken Cassoulet ($16) or any special offered. This cool and stylish spot is a local favorite for a reason .

Where to Stay in Sussex County NJ

STAY/QUIET: Wooden Duck B&B. If you’re seeking a place that provides serenity and peace just an hour from New York City, you won’t find better than the 10-room Wooden Duck B&B. Jason and Maryann Jerome took over as innkeepers three years ago, painted walls with color and put their own stamp on this elegant, luxury out-in-the-country inn. The Wooden Duck B&B is a Maven Favorite, with a full write up HERE.

STAY/ACTIVE: There are two notable resorts in Sussex County NJ for the active traveler: Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs Resort for the discerning wine lover and golfer, Mountain Creek Resort for the winter sports and Water Park fanatic. Click on each for more information and photos.

Minerals Resort Vernon NJ

STAY/FAMILY: Minerals Hotel @ Crystal Springs Resort. Part of Crystal Springs, but located closer to Mountain Creek, what Minerals Hotel lacks in luxurious appointments, it more than makes up for in fitness classes, water features, sports, and intensive programming.

Minerals Resort Indoor Pool Vernon NJ

If you want lap of luxury, stay elsewhere. If you want to be active and engaged every minute of your day, stay here. The property, common areas, and rooms are nice and clean. Reception is friendly and helpful. But the indoor pool and outdoor pools are knock-you-socks off large and a huge enticement to do nothing else but get pruned in the water.

Minerals Resort Basketball Court Vernon NJ

However, there’s also indoor basketball, racquetball, and other sports courts; yoga; fitness classes (including Pole dancing!), and 80 more programs, some free some with fees (like Paint and Sip: Lemonade Mason Jar, $15). Rooms range from $199 per night off peak to $600 for suites in season.

Sussex County NJ Pin

Four Best New and Renewed Casino Resorts in Northeast USA For Non-Gamblers

The number of Casino Resorts in the Northeast US has been exploding of late at a pace not seen since  Las Vegas mushroomed up from the desert of Nevada.

For sure there are zealous gamers out there, eager to find the next best gambling hall. But the following Resort Casinos in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts can also oblige those who are just not that into the whole betting scene.

With Spas, Golf Courses, Movie Theaters, and other amenities, the following four new and renewed Casino Resorts in four Northeast US States are welcoming more and more non-gamblers.

Mount Airy Casino Resort: Mount Pocono PA

Floral and Butterfly Bouquet Arrangements in lobby of Mount Airy Casino

Hotel Lobby Mount Airy Casino Resort PA

Twelve years ago, the “Beautiful Mount Airy Lodge” of yore was demolished and in its place stands a structure that draws a more refined clientele, and would fit nicely in the Adirondacks NY. Six stories, with earth tone palette, impressive soaring lobby (with waterfall), and stylish rooms; Mount Airy was named Pennsylvania’s first AAA rated 4-Diamond Casino. Yes, Mount Airy has a casino element, but non-gambling guests will find lots to do here. You can frolic in a fetching indoor/outdoor pool, enjoy a massage or other spa treatment, hike woodland trails, ski Camelback Ski Resort (10 minute drive), and/or play rounds of golf on Mt. Airy’s unique 18-hole course, where each hole is modeled after the most challenging ones from legendary American Championship golf courses.

Resorts World Catskills: Monticello NY 

Guest Room Resorts World Catskills

What ever happened to the “Borscht Belt” resort, The Concord? It’s now Resorts World Catskills – a gleaming glass tower of a casino resort in NYC’s backyard. With two hotel options, bars and restaurants, a great Spa, two indoor pools, a TopGolf Swing Suite, and affiliation with the Monticello Motor Club, (not to mention future plans to rebuild and revive the Concord’s famous Monster Golf Course), Resorts World Catskills plans to draw even non-gamblers to the mountains once again.

Mohegan Sun Casino Resort: Uncasville CT 

Sky Tower Hotel Lobby Mohegan Sun Resort CT

Embellished with bead and bark designs, roaring waterfalls, a 25 ft. tall Chihuly glass centerpiece, and with two hotel casino towers identified as “Earth” and “Sky,” Mohegan Sun is arguably the most dazzling gaming resort in the country. And yes, its interior design celebrates the local Native American heritage in the most exquisite and spellbinding ways. You can walk clear around the resort and not even enter one of three Casino Areas (Casino of the Earth, Casino of the Sky, Casino of the Wind) that together measure 300,000 sq ft. Those who hate gambling will find joy just lingering by the central mosaic pool in the hotel lobby or strolling around the interconnecting sections of the resort to ogle the tantalizing interior design and artwork.

MGM Springfield: Springfield MA

MGM Springfield MA Sign

Though ostensibly a gambling hall, MGM Springfield, the first MGM in an already developed urban center, has brought life back to what was a down in the dumps municipality. Some even claim that the resort, opened in August 2018, is setting off a renaissance in this Western MA city. Through repurposing vacant buildings, creating an eye-catching Plaza, drawing headliners to the Mass Mutual Center (owned by the State of Massachusetts but now managed by MGM), opening fun restaurants and bars, offering the only full-service movie-theater in the area, and utilizing wit and nods to local legends in the construction of a very cool boutique hotel, MGM Springfield delivers a phenomenal “Staycation” beyond expectations, even for people who are adverse to gaming.

Inn at Diamond Cove, Portland ME: A Maine Island Getaway

Though its address reads Portland ME, the luxurious, 44 room historic Inn at Diamond Cove is actually carved from a former military base on an island off the southern Maine coast. Getting there by ferry is just the beginning of the fun. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Inn is a hideout from the crazy summer crowds in Portland, and a snug, intimate escape in the cooler shoulder seasons.

History of Inn at Diamond Cove

WWII Era Training Mine Diamond Cove Maine

Fort McKinley, on Great Diamond Island, was the largest of five military complexes constructed in Portland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, protecting Maine’s principal city in one of the most well defended harbors in history. During WWII, the US Navy built a training and command center on the north side of the island – what’s now known as Diamond Cove – and at its height over 800 personnel lived in barracks and officers’ homes.

Decommissioned in 1961, the structures fell into disrepair. In 1987, David Bateman mused to his wife, Robin, “let’s buy half an island!” It was a wreck. The homeowners on Great Diamond Island’s south side (separated from the military base by gates) had left cars to rot on the Parade Ground; almost every window in every building was broken. In short, the landscape was a gloomy tumbledown mess. Robin was wary, to say the least.

Private Home Diamond Cove ME

But the Batemans and their partners persevered through decades of red tape and setbacks: renovating officer’s homes and ancillary buildings (like the Bakery) into private homes and selling them off one by one.

Private Patios Inn at Diamond Cove ME

And then, the piesta de resistance: Bateman Partners fashioned the former brick barracks into The Inn at Diamond Cove – an intimate, exclusive Historic Hotel of America – leaving historical features like the standard stairway pipe railings and exterior walkways intact.

Getting to Inn at Diamond Cove

Casco Bay Ferry Portland ME

The Casco Bay Ferry terminal is on Commercial St. in Portland. If you arrive by car, valet park across the street from the terminal parking garage in a private lot adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn Portland ($40 per night for guests). 

Casco Bay Ferry Ticket Office Portland ME

Let the Inn know what time you’ll be arriving, so a bell-person can meet you at the dock with a “golf cart limo.”

Eagle Sighting on Casco Bay Ferry Great Diamond Island ME

No reservations are necessary. Just get to the terminal 20 minutes before schedule to purchase a round trip ticket to Diamond Cove ($10.70, let the cashier know you’re going to the Inn). The 25-45 minute trip itself is a quick immersion in local island culture. Families have had homes on these islands for years, sometimes generations, so for sure you’ll see islanders and summer home owners with dogs and groceries in tow.

Diamond Cove Ferry Dock Maine

The ferry will make several stops – the first or second at the Great Diamond Island dock. Stay on until you make your way around the island to the Diamond Cove landing. You’ll be rewarded with Osprey and Bald Eagle sightings in the undeveloped forest along the shoreline.

First Impressions of Inn at Diamond Cove

Entrance Inn at Diamond Cove ME

Sure enough, an amiable bellhop in the “golf cart limo” was waiting to transport me uphill to the Inn. Passing the former tony officers homes encircling the Parade Grounds (now in private hands), we parked next to the inviting landscaped pool and fire pit across from the Inn’s front door.

Lobby Inn at Diamond Cove ME

Early in the season, a gas fire blazed in a beautifully decorated shipshape lobby, where shelves were stocked with board games, and tables set for lunch (see below under dining).

The stained glass art panel over the fireplace depicts a phoenix in flight – a nod to the fire that nearly destroyed the place shortly after it was renovated five years ago. Along with geodes and fossils, ashes are incorporated in the glass. With just three walls left standing, the Batemans had to start all over again to open in 2016, but the result is both cozy and stunning.

The Lay of the Land on Diamond Cove

Fitness Center Inn at Diamond Cove ME

At some point, you’ll meet the exuberant General Manager, Gil Hartman, who’s got a knack for teasing repartee. He or one of his team will take you on a 20-minute (or 2 hours in my case) tour of Diamond Cove property in the golf cart limo. Take him up on it – it’s a great way to get a lay of the land and identify the Adirondack chair upon which you will sit with a beach read while overlooking the water.

Indoor Basketball Court Inn at Diamond Cove ME

Your first stop is the Basketball/Fitness/Yoga/Duck-Pin Bowling Arcade Buildings. Yep – there are all of these things, also available to the Home Owners Association, and available to all guests.

Though the Yoga/Stretching room is indoors, on lovely days, Yoga classes are held on the lawn.

Bowling Arcade Inn at Diamond Cove ME

The Bowling Alley and Arcade is a throwback to simpler times. I’m talking pinball machines and Ms. Pac-Man – all free to play as much as you’d like.

Overlooking Diamond Cove ME

There’s a old abandoned derelict hospital encased in foliage – with “future plans” – a mule barn for wedding equipment storage, an Art Gallery event venue with small military museum, two restaurants near the dock, mines, bunkers, and plenty of seating scattered about.

GM Gil Hartman and island resident on Seaglass Beach Diamond Cove ME

Hunt for shards of mess hall crock-ware, worn down bricks, and ocean tossed sea glass on “Sea Glass Beach.” Ask Gil (or anyone on staff) where to find it.

Rooms at Inn at Diamond Cove

Two story suite Inn at Diamond Cove Maine

Accommodations are not trendy frou-frou or kitschy. The 44 upscale rooms in 14 different configurations are sophisticated with a traditional-modern style; well crafted and artful.

Inn at Diamond Cove Bed Maine

My room was a two-floor suite with small kitchen, fireplace, and outdoor patio on the first level, and a large marble and tile bath and small bedroom below.

Marble Bath Inn at Diamond Cove Maine

The bathroom was my favorite – decked out with red, white, and blue painted starfish (aka sea stars), adding pop to the subway tile rain shower and marble sink.

Dining in Diamond Cove

Salad Inn at Diamond Cove Lobby Restaurant

The Inn’s lobby becomes a terrific restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, serving fresh salads, sandwiches ($12-$21 for lobster rolls), burgers, and more hearty fare. The Super Greens Salad enhanced with strawberries ($17) was picked-from-the-ground-fresh.

Crown Jewel Bar Restaurant Diamond Cove ME

Crown Jewel, near the dock, offers craft cocktails and artisanal bites in a cutie-pie space. Due to its rosy Floridian hue, neon flamingo, brass pineapples, yum yums, and savvy Instagram presence, Crown Jewel has given this otherwise sleepy island a total sugar rush: drawing mainland patrons who don’t even live or lodge here.

Diamonds Edge Restaurant Diamond Cove ME

Diamond’s Edge is Diamond Cove’s fine-dining establishment, with some of the friendliest servers you’ll find anywhere. The brand new chef (2019), Jason Kennedy, demonstrates a deft way with foodstuffs – and what emerges from the kitchen is pure joy. (He’s a keeper!). Surf, turf, field, and stream entrees range from $25-$45. Yes, please, to the toothsome lightly fried Calamari sprinkled with a savory sweet zesty cream my young cousin branded “a marriage of tartar and Vodka sauce.” And, I implored our waitress to keep Chef’s Potato Pancakes topped with Osso Bucco Ham and Succotash on the menu. A mélange of textures and flavors, I’d order it as my main meal every time.

Just the Facts

Rooms from $210 off-season to $550 in season includes wi-fi, use of recreation facilities, golf-cart tour and transportation. Casco Bay Ferry is $10.70 round trip. Valet parking in Portland $40 per night.

Resorts World Catskills, Monticello NY: Betting, Off-Roading, and Luxury in the Former Borscht Belt

Resorts World Catskills Monticello NY

From the 1930’s on, hoteliers have capitalized on the beauty of the Catskill Mountains, opening up resorts that drew a mostly middle-class Jewish clientele from New York City (90 miles away): so much so that by the 1950’s and ‘60’s, the area was referred to as “The Borsch Belt.” Grossinger’s, Kutsher’s, and The Concord dominated the hotel scene – giving comedians like Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar, Henny Youngman, and later Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, and Joan Rivers a launch pad for their careers. (In one episode, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel did a midnight stint at The Concord).

Blintz plate Resorts World Catskills NY

But by the ‘70’s, with the advent of central air conditioning and cheap airfare, those night quite of the jet-set could stay cool in hot summers without leaving home, or jump on a plane and travel elsewhere inexpensively. And so, those once grand resorts fell into decline, and after decades were sadly abandoned. What ever happened to them? Grossinger’s was just demolished in 2018, Kutsher’s was purchased by a billionaire from India and turned into a high-end Health and Wellness hotel.

Off Roading Author Monticello Motor Club NY

And the Concord? It was demolished and rebuilt as Resorts World Catskills – a gleaming glass tower of a casino resort in NYC’s backyard. With two hotel options, bars and restaurants, a great Spa, two indoor pools, a TopGolf Swing Suite, and affiliation with the Monticello Motor Club, (not to mention future plans to rebuild and revive the Concord’s famous Monster Golf Course), Resorts World Catskills plans to draw even non-gamblers to the mountains once again.

First Impressions of Resorts World Catskills

Resorts World Catskills Hotel Lobby

Like many “resort casinos” springing up all over the Northeast, Resorts World Catskills was built as a soaring mirrored monolith (the tallest building within three counties) seemingly in the middle of nowhere; literally reflecting the beauty of the surrounding hills. Creating casinos with slots and tables – plus room and board and other activities – seems to be the new template for repurposing old summer resort regions. Because of this, competition is stiff among these gaming venues, so each requires something to set it apart from all the others. Or, as my Grandfather used to say, “you need a gimmick.”

4-D Slots Resorts World Catskills NY

What’s Resorts World Catskills gimmick? Walk in the front door to the luxury hotel, and there is absolutely no doubt that you are in a casino. A massive arcade of blinking, bleeping, dinging slot machines – 2,100 of them, most state of the art, several 4-D – are right in view. Take a sniff, though, and you won’t smell smoke. Difference #1 – unlike most gambling halls, which are enveloped in haze, Resorts World is a no-smoking property.

Private Plunge Pool Resorts World Catskills NY

Difference # 2: the second floor houses one of the largest Poker Rooms in New York State, with a cloistered high limit ($100 minimum) table gaming area. Even more hidden, the highest-roller “Inner Sanctum” consists of seven private “gaming salons.” Catering to and bending over backwards for high-stakes gamers ($20,000 average per-hand), is one of Resorts World Catskills strong suits. Top clients are escorted by helicopter or luxury limo from the City, stay comped in two-level villas with private plunge pool and butler service, and have their preferred drink waiting at their table, among other perks.

Chinese-English Menu Lotus at Resorts World Catskills NY

And then there’s the high concentration of Asians here – by design. The third “gimmick” that makes Resorts Catskills stand out is its dedication to a demographic that loves gambling – 30% of the casino floor is designed for the mostly Chinese market. Table games – some very specific to Asian countries and only found here – feature tea service and are manned by bi-lingual speakers. Two on-site Asian food restaurants – Good Friends Noodle Bar and Lotus (with chef from Hong Kong) feature signs and menus in both English and Chinese. And, to allay superstitions of two cultures, the hotel has no 4th or 13th floors.

For now, 26 buses per day arrive here from NYC. Many people stay just for the day, but a growing number come for an overnight stay.

Guest Rooms at Resorts World Catskills

Guest Room Resorts World Catskills

There are now two hotel options at Resorts. The most luxurious (and costly) is in the casino building itself. All 322 rooms are regal, dressed in shades of blue, with windowed floor to ceiling walls that remind you that you are in the Catskills with every view. Even the smallest guest chambers are 600 sq. ft. and that includes a contemporary double-sink, modern-tiled bathroom larger than many New York City studio apartments.

Corridor at Alder Hotel Resorts World Catskills NY

All 101 pretty rooms at the new on-property Alder Hotel (which will sometime soon be connected to the main casino by an enclosed breezeway) are significantly smaller, but also significantly less expensive, starting at $99 midweek offseason.

Crystal Life Spa

Spa Pool Resorts World Catskills NY

Crystal Life Spa takes up a good part of the 3rd floor and is tucked behind the for-spa-guests-only donut-shaped cabana-lined indoor pool (next to the hotel guest indoor pool, also surrounded by private tented first-come-first-served cabanas). There are six treatment rooms, a steam room, dry sauna, and a pretty “relaxation room” with soft throws, low light, comfy settees, and snacks.

Entrance Crystal Life Spa Resorts World Catskills NY

The award winning, full service Spa draws both hotel and casino guests as well as locals for professionally rendered bodywork and skin treatments. Opt for a decadent massage on the Spa Wave by Gharieni – a newfangled massage bed and the only one of its kind on the East Coast – that integrates water, music, light, and vibration into the bodywork. My 60-minute massage, with concentration on my writer-tight neck and shoulders, left me headache-free and feeling mellow.

Dining at Resorts World

Food Hall Resorts World Catskill NY

Eateries range from an order-at-kiosk Food Hall to the celebrity-chef owned Callaio Steakhouse.

24/7 Restaurant Resorts World Catskills NY

24/7 is a 50’s style diner option with casual food, Belgian Waffles ($12), Cheese Blitzes ($12), burgers, salads, and a “Boozy Milkshake” menu – popular in the wee hours, as it’s open, yep, 24/7.

Dos Gatos The Adler at Resorts World Catskills NY

Dos Gatos, where tacos, guacamole, and other Mexican street food shine, is located in the Alder Hotel. It has both a food-truck’y component (order at a small counter), and a cool bar area where you can choose from 120 different tequilas.

Lotus Resorts World Catskills NY

Lotus, helmed by a chef from Hong Kong, serves up typical Chinese-American food: Pot Stickers ($10), Honey Lemon Chicken ($23) and the like – plus melt-off-the-bone BBQ Ribs ($15), and an excellent signature Peking Duck ($65) that can easily satisfy a table of 4.

Cellaio by Scott Conant Resorts World Catskills NY

Cellaio is the highest-end restaurant here, featuring dry-aged steaks (that are displayed a corridor window), and a large 500 bottle wine list. This is “Chopped” Chef Scott Conant’s third restaurant, and if you are a steak-lover, this will be your go-to place after a big win (or loss).

DJ at Resorts World Catskills Monticello NY

In addition, there are several bars scattered around, including the Empire Lounge and Doubletop Bar & Grill, because…it’s a casino.

Epicenter

Epicenter Resorts World Casino Monticello NY

Jerry Seinfeld opened the Epicenter (the cute name for Resorts 27,000 sq. ft. no-column event, music, and conference center) with a routine that no doubt harked back to his appearances at the Concord formerly located right on this land. While vast, the Epicenter does not have stadium seating (yet), has a ceiling high enough for an NBA game, accommodates 2,500 for a relatively intimate show, and 1,200 for a sit-down meal.

Off and On-Site Non-Gaming Adventures For Hotel Guests

Off Road Monticello Motor Club NY

3-Hour Off Road Adventure in a Polaris at Monticello Motor Club. This is probably the coolest, most exhilarating attraction that you can book exclusively through Resorts World. First off, the MMC is a private gated race club, so generally only the 500 members who belong and keep their racecars here can gain entry. But Casino players and stayers can also access through this Resorts package, allowing you to go off roading in the winter and on the 4.1-mile race course in summer. Drive a Polaris – an enclosed dirt bike – on snow between bare trees, over ruts, and through icy water (waterproof apparel loaned out). It’s a certified blast. The motor club just purchased tanks, which will bring a completely new experience to the varied terrain. Stay tuned. $689 for 2 includes overnight in a Resorts World Catskill King Suite, transportation to and from the Motor Club, a tour of the club and race-cars, and 3 hour Polaris off-road experience.

Karaoke at Doubletop Bar & Grill (on-site): Friday 8-11pm, free.

Trivia at Doubletop Bar & Grill: Thurs 6-9pm., free.

Cooking Class at Cellaio: Saturdays 1-2pm, free for guests.

Dos Gatos Tequilla Bar Resorts World Catskills

Tequila Tasting and Education at Dos Gatos, Sat/Sun 1-2, $49 per person limited so rsvp.

Empire Lounge Resorts World Catskills NY

Mixology Class, Empire Lounge, Sat/Sun 12-1pm, free for guests.

Indoor Pool Resorts World Catskills Monticello NY

Yoga by the Spa Pool, 3rd Floor, Sun 12-1, free for guests, $15 for non-guests.

TopGolf Swing Suite Resorts World Catskils NY

TopGolf Swing Suite: Sun-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri/Sat 11am-2am, $20per person rsvp required.

Will arrange transportation to Bethel Woods (for a fee). Site of Yasgur’s Farm and the blowout 1969 Woodstock Music Festival is now both a music venue and fantastic Museum of the ‘60’s. Resorts World Catskills can arrange transportation to Bethel Woods concerts.

Just the Facts

Rooms in Resorts World Catskill Casino Hotel start at $140 off-season midweek to $920 in season weekends (includes taxes and fees) per night, suites higher. The Adler from $99 – $750 (includes tax and fees) per night.

Aspire at Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort, Uncasville CT

Approaching Mohegan Sun Resort Uncasville CT

The soaring geometric glass towers of Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino appear suddenly – and startlingly – as you round a curve in the remote rolling hills along the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut. One of these modernist towers now houses Aspire, a “hotel within a hotel” with renovated rooms, butler service, complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner, a “welcome gift,” and a quiet 4-table Blackjack room. I visited on a quiet January Tuesday to check it out.

Casino of the Wind Mohegan Sun Uncasville CT

Mohegan Sun, opened in 1996, and owned by the Mohegan Tribe, was the second “Indian Casino” to rise in Connecticut. (Foxwoods, managed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe ten miles away, was built in 1986.)

Beadwork at Mohegan Sun Uncasville CT

The first time I approached the modernist towers of Mohegan Sun in 2002, I was, I admit, cynical. How does this glass and mirror Oz embody the essence of Native American culture, especially since gambling is the “Indian Casino’s” reason d’être? What do slot machines have to do with reverence for Mother Earth? Or for adhering to Tribal customs, for that matter?

Bead and Bark designs Mohegan Sun CT

And then, I walked in. Embellished with bead and bark designs, roaring waterfalls, a 25 ft. tall Chihuly glass centerpiece, and with two hotel casino towers identified as “Earth” and “Sky,” Mohegan Sun is arguably the most dazzling gaming resort in the country. And yes, its interior design celebrates the local Native American heritage in the most exquisite and spellbinding ways.

Chihuly Sculpture in Sky Tower Mohegan Sun CT

The Tribal owners/managers of Mohegan Sun are so adept at building and running casinos and entertainment resorts, in fact, they are seeking to expand by acquiring or partnering with others around the country (soon, around the world – in South Korea) through Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, and already have six properties. Mohegan Sun Pocono in PA, Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, Ilani in Washington State, and Paragon Casino Resort in Louisiana are all under the MGE umbrella. “The Tribal Members want to be right there with the Wynn’s and Caesar’s,” says a company spokesman. “They consider this a family-run business.”

The Mohegan Sun Hotel Experience

Sky Tower Hotel Lobby Mohegan Sun Resort CT

There are 1,600 hotel rooms at Mohegan Sun, divided between the Sky Tower (1,200 rooms with 200 suites), and the newly opened – in 2016- Earth Tower (400 rooms). Aspire, carved from the Sky Tower’s former VIP levels, is the Casino’s latest exclusive luxury lodging.

Aspire at Mohegan Sun

As a Preferred Hotel, the guest experience at Mohegan Sun is already high-end, but Aspire takes it to another level. Literally. Aspire guest rooms and suites are situated on floors 31 and above.

Aspire Check In Mohegan Sun CT

There’s a private check-in area, formerly the VIP welcome room off the Sky Tower hotel lobby, where friendly, service-minded reception staff sit at desks, and right away offer a beverage – water, coffee, tea…champagne, perhaps? And then, a barrage of questions: Do you require your food and beverage butler at the moment? Would you like to schedule a meal brought to your room after 11pm when the 33rd floor food service ends? What time would you like to check out? Late? 2pm? Absolutely fine.

33rd Floor Hallway Aspire Mohegan Sun CT

Aspire rooms can be accessed by a dedicated but hardly discreet elevator found among six others (which also go to Aspire floors) in one of two Sky Tower elevator banks. Part of the Mohegan Sun Resort complex, the public is free to wander around the breathtaking lobby, but guests of the lower Sky Tower Hotel and those lofty Aspire floors must pass two levels of security: the first a manned guard at the elevators, and the second a room key card to activate the elevator.

It’s conceivable that Aspire guests could rub elbows with a high roller or two (for them, rooms are comped or drastically discounted), or a celebrity performing in the Arena that night. No celebrity sightings for me. As for high rollers, I just didn’t ask.

Aspire Guest Rooms

Aspire Guest Room Mohegan Sun Resort CT

Guest rooms are as calming as the resort’s casinos and public areas are electrifying. Swathed in shades of gold and grey, with direct views of sunrise on the Thames River (yes, get up for it), these chambers radiate class and tranquility.

Aspire Welcome Gift Mohegan Sun CT

Comforters, nearly as voluminous as the pillow top beds, invite a sleep so deep, I was out for eight hours straight – the longest I’ve slept in months. That might have had something to do with the small Dream Catcher, awaiting me in the room as my “Welcome Gift,” or a spritz from the tiny bottle of lavender spray, placed on my pillow at turndown.

Royal Suite Mohegan Sun Resort CT

The top of the line 3,700 sq. ft. Royal Suite features 180-degree views of the Thames River from its massive living room, where once, competing women dished on an episode of The Bachelorette. With two bedrooms, two baths, and beautifully appointed, this is where headliners or high rollers are generally put up. (Price on request).

Aspire Floor 33 Amenities

View of Thames River from 33rd Floor Mohegan Sun CT

Aspire guests have access to complimentary food and beverages at “Thirty Three” –private dining, bar, and Blackjack table rooms on the 33rd floor – all with a beautiful view of the Thames River.

Thirty Three Bar Aspire Mohegan Sun Resort

Top shelf liquor, cocktails, beer, and wine are yours for the asking (my preference was a Jordan Cabernet, and the pour is BIG) at the private Aspire bar.

Lunch on Floor 33 Aspire Mohegan Sun CT

Dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are set out as a buffet throughout the day, making it possible to dine for free during your stay. In the morning, you can have ready-made eggs your way, lox and bagels, bacon and sausage – and more. Lunch might be salads, sandwiches, and sliders. When I stayed, dinner consisted of steak, fried jumbo shrimp, lamb taco’s, and salad. This is not your roadside hotel evening pasta and pizza.

Private Blackjack Aspire Mohegan Sun CT

At 3pm, the private 4-table Blackjack room within view of the bar opens up for Aspire guests who prefer to play in peace and quiet. Minimum, $200, open 3-11 weekdays, 3-2 a.m. Fri. and Sat. Under 21 allowed in the room until 1pm only.

Just the Facts

Aspire rooms start at $309 – $600 depending on what is going on in the complex and can climb exponentially during tough-ticket events (e.g. Bruce Springsteen). Suites are priced on request.

11 Things to Know about Mohegan Sun

Mohegan Sun Functional Artwork Uncasville CT

  1. Mohegan Sun is owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe on Tribal land, and attracts 9 to 12 million visitors a year. Even an “off-season” midweek day will see 10k – 15k guests. There are 7,000 employees – many of whom have Native American heritage (though not necessarily Mohegan).

Sky Tower Lobby Fountain Pool Mohegan Sun Uncasville CT

  1. Décor at Mohegan Sun is “tribally influenced,” with symbols of the Mohegan Tribe throughout the property. Tens of millions of colorful beads were used to create vibrantly colored lighting and sail-like sculptures above. White birch bark around the Sky Tower ceiling represents the importance of basket weaving to the Eastern Woodland Indians. Everything – from trees to waterfalls, and even the color-rotating Chihuly glass sculpture – evokes Tribal imagery.

Todd English Tuscany Mohegan Sun Uncasville CT

  1. Among the 40-45 eateries at Mohegan Sun, you’ll find restaurants owned by Todd English (Tuscany), Bobby Flay (Bar American and Bobby’s Burger Palace), Michael Jordan (MJ’s Steakhouse), a Pepe’s Pizza outpost (since 1925 in New Haven CT) and the Soup Man (made famous by Jerry Seinfeld in his “Soup Nazi” episode). Unfortunately for those watching their figures, there’s also a Ben & Jerry’s, a Krispy Kreme, and a Dylan’s Candy Bar shop. FYI – Tuscany’s lunch buffet, Mon-Fri, is the best deal on site. For $24.95 you get a selection of about 10 salads, entrees like sirloin steak, mussels in wine sauce, chicken, and pasta, and a host of desserts – all with that Todd English flair.

Mohegan Sun Arena – Setting Up for Event

  1. Michael Jordan, playing with the Wizards against the Celtics, headlined The Mohegan Sun Arena’s opening event in 2001.
  2. The Mohegan Sun Arena hosts over 100 sporting events throughout the year. It has its own WNBA Woman’s Basketball and Professional Men’s Lacrosse Teams. The NLL (Lacrosse) matches are wildly popular, drawing 6,000 people to the area per event.
  3. Bruce Springsteen, JZ, Beyonce, and Brittany Spears have all played in the 10,000-seat Mohegan Sun Arena, which hosts top-flight celebrities – most recently Dancing With the Stars.

Wolf Den Earth Casino Mohegan Sun CT

  1. A second music venue – the 350 seat in-the-round Wolf Den – sits right in the center of the Earth Casino and is free. Yes, folks – you pay nada to listen to any band booked there. Though most are not well known (yet), Eddie Money, MC Hammer, the Gin Blossoms, and more have played at the Wolf Den. Even if you can’t get a seat, the venue is somewhat open to the casino area, so you can just stand, watch, and enjoy.

Earth Expo Center Mohegan Sun CT

  1. The Earth Expo Center, opened in May 2018, is the size of 4 football fields and recently hosted the largest Classic Car Auction in the USA. Column-free, painted bright white, and flooded with natural light, the space is attracting large-scale expositions – Boat Shows, Home and Garden Shows, etc. One of the biggest events – the 4-day Sun, Wine, and Food Festival – has brightened up the dark frigid days of late January for 17 years in a row.

Mandara Spa Mohegan Sun CT

  1. The high-end Mandara Spa occupies more than 16,000 sq. feet, has 13 treatment rooms, and offers everything from facials to massages to sloughing exfoliations and wraps.

Indoor Pool Mohegan Sun CT

  1. The large indoor pool inside a glass atrium is very popular with families, as are the Kid’s Quest supervised activity center for children 6 weeks to 12 years ($12.25 per child/hour), and Cyber Quest Arcade for unaccompanied kids over 12. When I visited on a recent January Tuesday, there were more families with their young offspring here than people sitting at the slots – ironic for a gambling resort.

Waterfall Sky Tower Mohegan Sun Resort Uncasville CT

  1. If you noticed – the ten facts about Mohegan Sun above did not include anything about “Gaming.” That’s because you can walk clear around the resort and not even enter one of three Casino Areas (Casino of the Earth, Casino of the Sky, Casino of the Wind) that together measure 300,000 sq ft. Those adverse to gambling will find joy just lingering by the central mosaic fountain pool in the hotel lobby or strolling around the interconnecting sections of the resort to ogle the tantalizing interior design and artwork.
Aspire Mohegan Sun Pinterest Pin

MGM Springfield MA: Not A Gambler? No Problem

MGM Springfield MA Sign

The Getaway Mavens are not gamblers. So, it’s really not like us to go gaga over a Casino where hoards of people stare banefully at bleeping, dinging, flashing slot machines – or at Blackjack and Poker tables – hoping for a payoff.

Kringle Candle Emporium Exterior MGM Springfield

But here’s the thing: though ostensibly a gambling hall, MGM Springfield, the first MGM Resort in an already developed urban center, has brought life back to what was a down in the dumps municipality. Some even claim that the MGM, opened in August 2018, is setting off a renaissance in this Western MA city.

Springfield YWCA Now MGM Resort

Through repurposing vacant buildings, creating an eye-catching entertainment Plaza, drawing headliners to the Mass Mutual Center (owned by the State of Massachusetts but now managed by MGM), opening fun restaurants and bars, offering the only full-service movie-theater in the area, and utilizing wit and nods to local legends in the construction of a very cool boutique hotel, MGM Springfield delivers a phenomenal “Staycation” beyond expectations, even for people who are adverse to betting.

MGM Springfield Plaza Armory Building

According to one spokesperson, “MGM could have plopped a new marble and glass building in the middle of Springfield, but didn’t.” It enfolded the Victorian-Gothic French Congregational Church (now Kringle Candle Emporium), the old YWCA, the façade of the former Union House Hotel (now The Chandler Restaurant), and castle-cool Springfield Armory into its complex, honoring the past while creating something modern. Poignantly, the  “Barber Room” (in the salon) is named after the Mayor of Springfield’s father, Alfonso Sarno, a much loved Springfield barber for six decades.

Bliss St Tree Table MGM Springfield

Architects and designers went so far as to pay homage to what once stood on this site: fashioning en-suite dining room tables from trees chopped down on Bliss St. (now One MGM Way). It’s interesting to note that between the new and old buildings, there are 45 different window types alone. No wonder architecture hounds and new-hotel enthusiasts are starting to flock here.

Hat Lamp MGM Springfield

In fact, touches all over the place will make you smile, and are worth second and third looks. If you do nothing else, wander the casino property and study the chandeliers. Each one is a work of art, embellished with quirky artifacts: golf clubs in the TopGolf Swing Suites, band hats in one of the larger guest suites, trapeze bands in Tap Sports Bar, antique photos in the Commonwealth Bar and more.

First Impressions of MGM Springfield

MGM Springfield Casino Floor

MGM Springfield takes up a good chunk of downtown, though its size is initially tough to discern. If driving in, choose the free Self Park garage (yes, I said free!), with elevators that deliver you right onto the Casino floor. You won’t be able to avoid the labyrinth of slot machines in vast, seemingly endless, rooms as you make your way to the Hotel, but just go with it and follow signs.

Mia Pearlman Art MGM Springfield MA

If dropped off, you’ll enter the hotel at the corner of Main and Howard Street, where you’re greeted by the first of many art installations – this one a whirlwind of white ribbony steel by Mia Pearlman, reflecting the tornado that tore through Springfield MA in 2011.

MGM Springfield Hotel Lobby

MGM Springfield MA Hotel Lobby

Unheard of and pretty ironic for a gaming resort, the MGM Springfield Hotel is a paean to giants in the literary world who once lived in the area (Merriam-Webster of Dictionary fame, Emily Dickinson, Dr. Seuss and more). And so, the hotel lobby is designed like a library, lined with bookshelves filled with real books (e.g. a 1962 Agawam High School Yearbook favored by guests who graduated that year and were excited to see it), and knickknacks gleaned from nearby Brimfield Flea Market, which gives guest rooms and common areas a whimsical vibe.

Elevator Books MGM Springfield MA

The large HOTEL sign once graced the façade of the Golden Gate Hotel in Las Vegas, alphabet letters behind the reception desk look like enlarged Scrabble tiles, and check out the elevator bank! It’s like walking into a giant shelf of favorite tomes.

Lobby Bar

MGM Springfield Hotel Lobby Bar

Make yourself at home in this living room like space. According to some, it’s the best place on the property for funky-fun craft cocktails with names like Tequila Mockingbird, Gone With the Gin, and Fahrenheit 451 – the latter a Chartreuse based drink topped by fresh mint that is lit on fire.

Craft Cocktail MGM Springfield Hotel Lobby Bar

On Friday nights from 6-8, the Lobby Bar becomes a “Study Hall” where guests get a “Library Card” which is stamped every time you try one of the many newfangled cocktails.

MGM Springfield Hotel Rooms and Suites

MGM Springfield Hotel Hallway

There are 252 rooms, including 16 suites, on five floors – each slightly different based on the “literary” art on the walls. Every floor showcases an artifact from the Springfield Museums in a glass case just off the elevator. As you make your way to your room pay attention to your surroundings: lines from Emily Dickinson poetry are woven into the hallway carpets; arrangements of sculptural lighting on hallway walls incorporate Dr. Seuss spectacles; US Mail signs outside each guest room door serve as Do Not Disturb or Service Requested lights.

MGM Springfield Guest Room

The creativity of interior designers continues in the guest rooms, which are unlike any I’ve seen outside of a NYC boutique hotel. Steam-punk style reading lights loom over ultra-comfy fabric covered beds distinguished by slanted backboards that are ergonomically perfect for reading before sleep. Poured concrete ceilings, dark wainscoted walls splashed with bookish art, forest green cable knit throws, chairs upholstered in tweed and hound’s-tooth with a punch of bold floral pillows – it’s a masculine/feminine/Yin/Yang mash-up of a space that is at once giddily fun and seriously sumptuous.

MGM Springfield Guest Room Bath

Bathrooms, too, stocked with Bvlgari toiletries, are unusually stylish, with casement window doors opening into subway tile rain showers, and snazzy sinks.

MGM Springfield Garden Suite

The 16 suites, with ample room for entertaining and lots more features, are always the first to sell out. The Presidential Suite on the 6th floor is unmarked – making it a discreet romantic getaway for 2 or a party space for a group of friends.

Amenities for Hotel Guests

MGM Springfield Gym

A small but well-appointed fitness room on the 2nd floor is outfitted with machines, balls, weights, water and towels.

In season outdoor roof deck pool is available to guests only.

MGM Springfield Hotel Starbucks Machine

Starbucks coffee machine on 2nd floor dispenses free coffee at all hours.

A full service Starbucks can be found right off the lobby.

Room and suite rates from $189 to over $1000 per night depend on availability and time of year.

Leaving the MGM Springfield Hotel

MGM Springfield Endless Slot Machines

Just outside the hotel lobby – you’ll find two shops: Essentials carries sundries, t-shirts and canned beer. Hannoush Jewelers, a local enterprise, captures the high rollers who might wish to spend their jackpots on something diamond studded. It was important to the Resort developers to support regional businesses, rather than, say, a national brand like Tiffany’s.

Casino Perimeter Bar MGM Springfield

The MGM Hotel is obviously connected to the Casino, and once you step over the threshold from lobby to the gaming floor, you can’t avoid 2,550 slot machines in 125,000 sq. ft of space. A cordoned off Poker Room, designed with aesthetics based on the Rolls Royce Phantom (manufactured in Springfield MA in the 1920’s), is a hushed respite from the overstimulation of the rest of the place. Gamers can take advantage of free coffee, water, tea and Coca Cola products from automatic dispensers – and belly up to several bars – that line the outer perimeter of the casino.

MGM Springfield MA Immaculate Casino Bathrooms

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about the immaculate bathrooms in the casino area. Kudos to the employees who keep them sparkling clean. Each sink features a faucet, soap dispenser, AND an air hand dryer – something I’ve never seen before.

At all hours of the day, every day, people que up at the M Life Rewards counter to become a member of MGM’s Loyalty Program. Yes, it’s a business, and when you’re in the business of (mostly) taking other people’s money, it’s good PR to show you’re giving back in some way. In this case with points every time you load up your card for the slots, when you purchase food and drinks, or buy stuff in the resort’s shops.

Game Sense MGM Springfield MA

To its credit, MGM Springfield features a very visible Game Sense office – available to people who might be confused by the games, need the odds spelled out, or require counseling for gambling addiction.

Drinking and Dining At MGM Springfield

Commonwealth Bar and Lounge MGM Springfield

I love a craft cocktail with an outrageous story – and the Commonwealth Bar does not disappoint. The “Indian Sidecar” costs $25,000…. but comes with a motorcycle. Yes, the Indian Motorcycle was first built and subsequently manufactured in Springfield MA, and has recently made a comeback (though no longer made here). This very expensive drink honors that heritage.

The Chandler Steakhouse MGM Springfield

If you had a “good day,” or just want to dine in one of the finest restaurants in Springfield, book a linen covered table at The Chandler Steakhouse, a low lit establishment with all the accoutrements of a swanky steakhouse. Circular dining room with leather banquettes? Check. Fawning waiters? Check. Great wines by the glass? Check. (My Oregon sourced Erath Pinot Noir was lovely). Lamp shade votives? Yep. The bread course – an excellent pull-apart dense popover – came hot and fresh from the oven. Clubby appetizers, like Oysters Rockefeller ($18), Roasted Bone Marrow ($16) are good, steaks from $44-$58 are of course the featured meal, but even vegans can find something to eat (on the day I dined – it was a Cauliflower Steak for $24), and non-meat eaters can choose from several seafood and chicken dishes. My Caramelized Scallops over shaved Brussels Sprouts and cauliflower cream ($34) was peppery and tasty – a perfect counterpoint to that glass of Pinot.

Cal Mare MGM Springfield

At the other end of the casino floor, find Cal Mare Italian Restaurant – a pretty, open space with good pasta dishes, and a walk-up wood-fire pizza annex.

Tap Sports Bar Bowling Alley MGM Springfield

There are screens galore (60 in all) playing all manner of sporting events at Tap Sports Bar, and the food decent, pub grub (burgers, wings, smoked brisket chili, etc). But what makes this spot so alluring is the 10-lane bowling alley in the back: from the looks of it, a very popular spot for neighboring office workers during a winter weekday lunch break. I heard that all lanes are already booked weekends through the end of the year. Tap Sports Bar is known, of course, for it’s beer on “tap,” burgers and “super fun aps.”

MGM Springfield South End Market

Those who love the variety of choice in food halls and food courts will appreciate the South End Market Food Court. In addition to a coffee/gelato booth (I’ve been told the MGM Signature Hot Chocolate is “killer”), there’s a Jack’s Lobster Shack, Bill’s Diner, Wicked Noodles, and Hearth Grill.

10 Ways to Stay Out of the Casino (for non-gamblers)

MGM Springfield Regal Cinema Bar

  1. Recline, have a glass of wine, and watch a first-run movie on one of 7 large screens at Regal Cinema. Head up to the escalator to the movie theater lobby where you can purchase tickets at self-serve kiosks, order a drink at the bar, and get a meal at the concession stand. This is the only luxury cinema of its kind in this end of the State and a destination in its own right.

    Spa, MGM Springfield MA

  2. Book a Facial, Massage, Wrap, or other signature blackberry-sage skin therapies at the Spa at MGM Springfield. A hit with locals as well, this professional spa has 7 treatment rooms, a steam shower, large private showers, and lots of infused water and dried fruit to keep you healthy inside as well.

    TopGolf Swing Suites MGM Springfield

  3. Rent one of 3 “Suites” –curtained off spaces – at Top Golf Swing Suites for an hour or more ($80 per hour) and bring your best buddies to play virtual golf, baseball, Zombie Dodgeball, carnival games, hockey and more – all with food and bar service. Choose among 95 famous golf courses (including Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines), a plus for serious golfers who want to keep their game fresh in wintertime or for anyone who wishes to avoid the hustle and bustle of the casino. Open 4pm-11 weekdays, 12-12 on weekends.

    MGM Springfield Tap Bowling Alley

  4. Reserve a lane at Tap Sports Bar Bowling alley. There may be other Tap Sports Bars in other MGM’s around the country, but this is the only one with a fully operating bowling alley (and arcade) in the back. Lanes go fast, so be sure to book well ahead. Even better – your food is delivered right to your bowling lane.

    MGM Springfield Tap Bar Arcade

  5. Play arcade games, old fashioned and new, at Tap Sports Bar. Initially, the arcade games were complimentary, but parents started dropping their kids off before heading to the slots. Now – playing will cost you roughly $10 for 2 hours – and kids must be supervised.

    MGM Springfield Skating Rink

  6. If it’s winter, plan a spin on the Plaza Ice Rink. In winter 2018, Nancy Kerrigan was on hand to inaugurate the rink by skating to the song, “Let It Go.” But you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete – or know what you’re doing at all – to rent some skates and get out on the ice.

    Kringle Candle Emporium MGM Springfield

  7. If you’re “Frozen,” the Kringle Candle Emporium, just steps away from the ice rink, sells hot chocolate both spiked and not. Goes down warm and smooth either way. Interestingly, in addition to candles, beverages, and deserts, Kringle Candle also sells cashmere scarves and other gift items. (A bit of trivia – Kringle was established locally by the grandson of the  Yankee Candle Co. founder).

    Plaza Springfield Armory MGM Springfield MA

  8. Shop a pop-up, see a comedy show, or plan your own affair in the former Springfield Armory building at the center of MGM Plaza (not to be confused with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site up the hill). Now filled with “Christmas Kringle shops,” the castle-like building will become the Roar Comedy Club on Jan. 3rd 2019, and at times will be free space available for your own special event. A cool venue for sure.

    Indian Motorcycle Merchandise Shop MGM Springfield MA

  9. Buy Indian Motorcycle merchandise in the only store dedicated to everything Indian but the bike itself. If you’ve got an Indian Motorcycle enthusiast in your life – pick something up here. (Or, see above and buy the “Indian Sidecar” cocktail at the Commonwealth Bar in the casino. Just $25,000, the drink comes with a motorcycle on the side.)
  10. Catch a headliner at MassMutual Center. On April 30 2019, Cher is slated to perform.

Hershey, PA; Where Goodnight Kisses Are Wrapped in Silver

WHY GO: The product that made Milton Hershey a household name – chocolate – dominates everything here; at Hershey Park, in the Resorts, and on Chocolate Ave. downtown where the streetlights are shaped like Kisses. One of the most overlooked attractions in Hershey, PA is, arguably, its most important; The Milton Hershey School. If you come to Hershey and do nothing else, take a tour of this free residential school for 1,900 disadvantaged kids in K-12.  A part of every dollar you spend in this company town goes toward the care, feeding, and education of the children there. Of course, most people come to Hershey for the amusement Park, the Chocolate Spa or the stars who appear at the Arena. But make it a point to learn a bit about The Hershey School.  You will be moved.

Things To Do, Besides Hersheypark, In Hershey, PA

Milton Hershey School PA

Milton Hershey School PA

VISIT: The Milton Hershey School. Built in 1909 by Milton Hershey and his wife as a school for orphan boys, it has grown from a handful of students to nearly 1,900 boys and girls today. Childless Milton left his complete fortune to the foundation that keeps this free sanctuary in operation for kids from broken families or dysfunctional homes. Dedicated teachers are of the Miss Honey variety; compassionate, engaged and warmhearted.  You’ll stand within the World’s Second Largest Rotunda – Founders Hall – and learn about the difference this place makes to many kids. 10am-3pm daily to see Founders Hall and 15 Minute Video, Free.

Hershey Story Hershey PA

Hershey Story Hershey PA

VISIT: The Hershey Story Museum. During WWII, when aluminum foil was unavailable, the Hershey Chocolate Co. stopped making Chocolate Kisses and churned out 1.6 billion Ration Bars for US Troops instead.  Find this bit of trivia and the Parade Magazine version of Milton Hershey’s life at this engaging, interactive museum downtown.  In response to the harsh and abusive conditions Hershey saw in other Industrial Company Towns, he vowed to make his a kinder, gentler, prettier place.  He offered decent housing at reasonable prices for his employees and encouraged residents to start their own businesses. He built community buildings, two theaters, a school for orphans and a recreational park that would become roller-coaster central, HersheyPark.  His Foundation established the Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center in 1963, and according to one bank Chair,  “Milton measured success not in dollars but in the usefulness of those dollars for the benefit of his fellow man.”  Stop long enough to watch videos of the kids who went to or are attending the Hershey School; they talk about the stability, motivation and compassion they find there.  I dare you to leave the museum dry-eyed. 9am-5pm daily in season, $10 adults.

VISIT: AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) Museum.  This showcase for dozens of iconic motorcars displayed in a hanger-sized building is fast becoming a hotspot for “quirky” weddings. Pick up a souvenir in the Dog House Garage Store on your way out. 9am-5pm daily, $10 adults, $7 kids.

Chocolate World, Hershey PA

Chocolate World, Hershey PA

DO: Hershey’s Chocolate World.  It’s free, its fast (only 15 minutes) and it’s fun – just like a Disneyworld ride without the expense. Jump aboard carriages that convey you through the chocolate-making process.  Animatronic cows croon “it’s all about the milk,” as you see cocoa beans roasted, milled, pressed and mixed with milk and sugar to become, ta-da, Hershey’s kisses and other chocolate products. Amazingly, Hershey Chocolate Co. still produces over 80 million kisses every day. Opens daily at 9am and closes at 6, 7 or 9pm depending on season. Check Website.

DO/SPA: Chocolate Spa, Hotel Hershey. Luxuriate in a 15 minute patented Whipped Hot Cocoa Bath ($50). Awarded a U.S. patent in 2001, it’s an experience comparable to sitting in a cup of hot chocolate and the spa’s most popular treatment. There are dozens of various treatments including a new, edible facial and Whoopie Pie Mani-Pedi. Leave it to the folks at Hershey to determine all kind of ways to be immersed in the sweet stuff; dipped like fondue, wrapped like a burrito and submerged — all without a single calorie! Contact the Spa far in advance to secure reservation, since they fill up quickly. 

Melt Spa By Hershey Downtown Hershey PA

Melt Spa By Hershey Downtown Hershey PA

DO/SPA: MeltSpa by Hershey. Chocolate spa treatments are in high demand in Hershey PA. So, it was wise of Hershey Co. to open up a second Day Spa in town to 1) catch the overflow of guests at Hershey Hotel’s Spa, and 2) serve as an alternative for locals. I had a chance to chat with several local professional women who appreciate the fact that they can easily visit this in-town spa without all the rigmarole of checking in and waiting for services at the hotel. I’ve been to both now and can attest to the timesaving factor and similarities of services. Though the ambience at MeltSpa, including the small “Relaxation Room,” is not as posh as the hotel’s, the treatments are equally fine.

MeltSpa by Hershey Interior Hershey PA

MeltSpa by Hershey Interior Hershey PA

My 90 minute “Dark Chocolate Immersion” ($145) – first a full-body exfoliation with Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Sugar Scrub, followed by an application of a chocolate moisturizing cream all over my body, then wrapped in cling-plastic and blankets – made my skin softer than it’s been in decades. Additional massage on my troubled tight muscles rendered this treatment both decadent and beneficial. I also tried the 60-minute Hershey’s Sweet Treat Dark Chocolate Pedicure ($65), which incorporates a lower leg exfoliation and massage. The mani-pedi space features walls of windows that look out to main street Hershey – so while my feet and toenails were quite expertly tended to, I enjoyed people-watching on the sidewalk outside. All in all, MeltSpa at Hershey measures up to the Hershey name.Naturalist and Falconer Jack Hubley holding large hawk in his gloved hand

DO: Learn Falconry.  “There’s nothing like calling a hawk and seeing this small bird getting bigger and bigger as it approaches your gloved hand,” says Master Falconer and NBC News 8 Naturalist, Jack Hubley.  Take a 1 ½ hour lesson, then holler for your own hawk. Wed –  Mon Memorial Day to Labor Day, Weekends in Spring and Fall, April – October,  11am- 12:30, $75 if staying in a Hershey Resort.

The round bar at the center of updated Hotel Hershey dining room, The Circular

What To Eat In Hershey, PA

EAT: The Circular, Hotel Hershey.  After an extensive renovation, The Circular has been updated to reflect the tastes of today’s foodie traveler. An O-shaped bar and baking station takes up the center of the whitewashed room (no more mural).  Gas-light-style lamps illuminate wood furniture made in the USA accented in various chocolate hues. Gone are “bartenders” and in their place inventive “mixologists” who use house-made infusions in artful (and delectable) cocktails.  Chefs and managers have been culled from Four Seasons Hotels, so they understand the new au courant – small-plates market. Sit at the circular bar (hey ladies, it’s got built-in purse hooks!), graze on absurdly scrumptious “Wild Mushroom Wellington” ($20), Pretzel-Crusted Rock Shrimp ($9) – the PA Dutch version of Popcorn Shrimp and infinitively better – or go full-tilt for the 18oz  “Prime Cowboy” steak ($49, but big enough for at least two). End with the Chocolate Fondue for Two ($12).  The Circular is Hershey Hotel’s return to excellence and relevancy on the upscale, destination dining scene.

 Golden brown pastry stuffed with seasoned wild mushrooms

EAT: Trevi 5, Hotel Hershey. You can hear screams from the nearby roller coaster riders while enjoying your meal on the patio of this lovely linen-tabled Contemporary Italian restaurant.  The food is terrific, and service warm and gracious.

EAT/BREAKFAST: Hershey Pantry. Go “off campus” to the local favorite breakfast place, The Hershey Pantry, where you can stuff yourself with Stuffed French Toast and other only-on-vacation breakfast splurges.

EAT: The Chocolate Avenue Grill, downtown– offering an inventive and delish take on burgers, sandwiches and salads.  Try the Grilled Cesar Salad with Grilled Chicken ($12) – crisp, smokey, fresh, tasty, and not an ounce of cocoa in it.

Hershey Hotel Guest Room

Where To Stay In Hershey, PA

STAY: The Hotel Hershey. Philanthropist Milton Hershey put 600 people to work during the Great Depression in 1933 to build this marquee hotel. Though a bit bland on the outside, the interior, particularly the colorful Moorish Fountain Lobby (designed like the Heliopolis Hotel in Egypt), and The Circular Dining Room, are magnificent. Family-crest chic rooms in soothing neutral shades of creams and butterscotch, are lusciously appointed. The Chocolate Spa is located on premises, as are a slew of resort amenities and of course lots of shops that carry all things Hershey. $279 and up per room includes chocolate bar at check-in, discounts to Hershey Park, free shuttle to local attractions, free passes to area museums, and a host of amenities.

Hershey Lodge Guest Room Hershey PA

Hershey Lodge Guest Room Hershey PA

STAY: Hershey Lodge. Once upon a time, this was the more rustic, “family friendly” brother of the upscale Hotel Hershey. But most of the 665 rooms and suites at the Lodge have been refreshed to luxury standards, and the lobby sports a large and impressive four-sided stone fireplace around which HersheyPark-weary parents take a much-needed load off.

Hershey Lodge Lobby Hershey PA

Hershey Lodge Lobby Hershey PA

Of course, as a Hershey Co. property, you get a full-sized Hershey’s Chocolate Bar at check-in, and your room includes an hour early access to Hersheypark, complimentary admission to Hershey Gardens, complimentary admission to the Hershey’s Story Experience, free front-gate shuttle service, and discounts on Park Entrance fees. Room rates from $179 off season to $479 in season.

STAY: Inn at Westwynd Farm. Not every lodging in the Hershey area is part of the company town.  Take this 32-acre working horse farm /B&B, just three miles away. With an ambience ripped from the pages of a romance novel, 11 pasture-view rooms have a fireplace and bedside Jacuzzi and are done up in whites and creams offset by deeply colored window treatments and bedding. Watch a variety of horses, alpacas and donkeys gambol all over a vast expanse of farmland.  Westwynd Farm is known for its three course hot breakfast served in the cathedral-ceiling great room or on an outside patio besides a koi pond. $109-$209 per room gets you unlimited baked snacks, soft drinks, beer, wine and gourmet 3 course breakfast for 2.

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Hershey PA

Omni Bedford Springs Resort, Bedford PA With Flight 93 Memorial Excursion

In the late 1700’s, Dr. John Anderson learned that Native Americans used the water emanating from the springs at what is now the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford PA, for healing. Believing the springs to have curative properties, Anderson purchased over 2,000 acres and began to bring patients to this western area of Pennsylvania. Word spread, and when wealthy people started making the pilgrimage here, in 1806 Anderson built the Stone House as a sanatorium where weary patients could drink and swim in the restorative water. Thomas Jefferson stayed a few weeks in 1819, James Buchanan considered this his “summer home,” and other US Presidents have visited since then. As a favorite mid 1800’s vacation spot for Southerners, Bedford Springs was one of the only northern resorts not burned down by Confederates during the Civil War.

Over the years, the property morphed into a summer resort for the rich and famous, and more and more buildings were added on, lending a unique asymmetrical multi-architectural style to the meandering building. Bedford Springs resort featured one of the first golf courses and one of the first indoor pools in the United States. The property remained a popular hotel until the 1980’s when resort travel the world over declined. In 1984, the Bedford Springs Resort was named a National Historic Landmark, and in 1986 it closed. Enter new owners in the 1990’s who sunk $120 million into renovations, reopening the hotel as the luxury 216-room Omni Bedford Springs Resort in 2007. Renovations were cleverly and appealingly done – using fixtures and colors matching the hues and period amenities of each distinct building.

First Impressions of Omni Bedford Springs Resort

 

Even on a dreary, grey, and drizzly day, eye-catching landscaping and gardens brighten up this imposing place. The Colonial-style lobby is large and appealing, with a fire in the fireplace, lots of windows and natural light, period décor, and a double split staircase leading to ballrooms on higher floors. There’s a rare 1889, 39-star US Flag behind the reception desk – one of just several in existence worldwide.Each room and corridor throughout several buildings serve as museum galleries showcasing photos, art, and artifacts from the resort’s early years to present. There’s so much to take in, I recommend taking a $10 hour-long tour of the property offered daily at 10am, and additionally on Friday and Saturday at 1pm.

Rooms at Omni Bedford Springs

Guestrooms are designed to best represent the time period in which each corresponding building was constructed. The new Spa Rooms exemplify an atmosphere of serenity, in a pastel palette of whisper blues and greens. The wood sleigh bed is topped with cloudlike bedding and the softest of sheets. A balcony with several chairs overlooks hills and hiking trails. Bright French Doors enter onto a Carrera marble and subway tile bathroom. Understated opulence.

Dining At Omni Bedford Springs


There are four full time restaurants on site, including the upscale steak house, 1796 (referencing the year Anderson purchased the property), the casual Frontier Tavern, Tillie’s at the Golf Clubhouse, and my favorite, the Crystal Dining Room, a fantasia of white, with black and white portrait photographs blanketing the walls, and glittery crystal chandeliers. It’s like dining within a 1920’s movie.

Golf

One of the Top 100 Golf Courses in the USA, the 18 hole Bedford Springs course was first designed by Spencer Oldham, and then redesigned by A.w. Tillingast and Donald Ross.

Indoor Pool

 

 

Built in 1905, this indoor mineral spring-fed pool was one of the first in the country, originally 9 feet deep from end to end: just the right depth to inspire guests to swan dive from the overhead balcony. The pool has since been reconstructed with a shallow area, but remains spring fed and crystal clear.

Outdoor Pool

Hiking and Biking

There are miles of footpaths from easy to difficult ranging from half a mile to 4.5 miles, as well as 2 dedicated mountain bike paths – one moderate, one difficult – on the property.

Other Amenities

In addition to a full-service Spa, An on-site outfitter arranges Segway Tours, Archery, Fly-Fishing, UTV, horseback rides, and trap shooting.

Just the Facts

Rooms from $239 per night include parking.

Venture Out: Things to Do in or Near Bedford PA

Bedford PA has significant frontier history, best explored at the Fort Bedford Museum – a 1958 recreation of a 1758 French and Indian War Era fort right on site – and the Espy House – President George Washington’s headquarters during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion (which caused nearly as much agitation as the earlier British tax on tea).

VISIT: National Museum of the American Coverlet, Bedford. But the best and quirkiest use of your time away from the Omni Hotel would have to be a visit to the National Museum of the American Coverlet – situated in the 1859 Bedford Primary School. Weird and wonderful enough to warrant mention on the Atlas Obscura website, antique coverlets earn their stripes, so to speak, as an American art form here, displayed in all their magnificence throughout a labyrinth of old classrooms that now serve as soaring galleries.

“People know about quilts, but not about coverlets, which are made on a loom,” says Melinda Zongor, who, with her husband, Lazlo, founded the museum in 2006. All 500-600 coverlets, dating from 1771 to 1889, have been donated and are in beautiful shape. Most have the owner’s name and date woven into the design, and some of the more dramatic ones feature silhouettes of buildings and nature scenes. All coverlets are juxtaposed with complex looms of the day. The Museum also offers classes in weaving and spinning – and is gaining aficionados – though if you come midweek on a summer’s day, the place may seem closed. Even if you don’t see a car in the parking lot, if within stated operating hours, go to the front door. The museum will most likely be open. Open daily, Mon – Sat 10-5, Sun 12-4, $10.

VISIT: Flight 93 National Memorial, near Shanksville. On a much more somber note – if you are heading West to Pittsburgh, or even if you are not, drive 30 minutes to the place where, on September 11, 2001, heroes on board Flight 93 forced down a hijacked plane heading to the US Capitol building. The Memorial – now a National Park – is composed of several structures, including the Visitor’s Center and Memorial Plaza, within the crash site bounded by the hilly Allegheny Mountains.

You’ll likely encounter groups of sobbing people entering the Visitor’s Center, which tells the story of the 33 passengers and 7 crew members who deliberately thwarted a terrorist attack, knowingly risking their own lives.

According to Park Rangers, like Thomas Burnett, Jr., who give talks several times a day, the fact that Flight 93 took off 24 minutes late made all the difference in the world, allowing passengers, in contact with loved ones, to know what was happening that morning. Travelers on board made a total of 37 calls – some leaving tearful messages on answering machines, now part of the heartbreaking multi-media exhibit.

Flight 93 crashed at a 40-degree angle at 563 MPH with a full tank of fuel, leaving a 40 acres debris field and an impact crater 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep. It missed Shanksville’s Elementary School, with kids just back from summer break, by three seconds. The footprint of Memorial Plaza runs along the debris field, and extends to a Wall of Names at the impact site. Come to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to save others. Open daily 9-5 (except for New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas), free.

Migis Lodge on Sebago Lake ME: 100 Years of Lake Cottage Traditions

By day’s end, the Sebago Lake (ME) chorus reaches its crescendo – repetitive loon calls, frogs that trill like never-ending car alarms, murmurs of mothers and fathers putting their kids to sleep in nearby cottages – all merging into one great Migis Lodge reverie. It’s a symphony that singles, couples, and families have been listening to at this upscale but down to earth Maine resort for 100 years.

Though there are other ways to access Sebago Lake – camping at Sebago Lake State Park, renting a condo at Sebago Point, staying at non-lakefront hotels on main roads – Migis Lodge is a self-contained summer camp, mostly for a highbrow clientele, but also for those who’ve saved up to splurge, with everything you need right on the grounds. The restaurant is the finest in the area (three meals a day included), and there are many ways to get in or out on the water, from the swimming platform, sandy beaches, canoes, kayaks, sup’s, sail, and motor boats.

Legend has it that Migis is Native American for “A place to steal away,” and though that might not be completely fact checked, the translation certainly fits. People have called this place “magical” – which is the real reason guests come every year, generation after generation.

First Impression of Migis Lodge

Driving in, my first sense of Migis harked back to my days at sleepaway camp in the Adirondacks, with dirt roads and rustic cottages peppered throughout the woods.

That initial impression – of moldy towels and hard bunk beds – was quickly dispelled at first view of the country-posh reception area in the Main Lodge with its view of the pristine lake, and the incredibly personable, anticipatory Migis staff and family, which includes, happily, a tropical bird.

If owners Tim and Joan Porta are around, you’ll meet their African Grey Parrot, “Deets,” who apparently has a vast vocabulary but was mute on the day I arrived.

The main lodge features couches in front of a roaring fireplace (all summer long!), reception, the dining room with outside deck, and upstairs, several guest rooms. As I checked in near the dinner hour, I saw men and boys, dressed in jackets for dinner (required), appearing as if they’d just walked off a Ralph Lauren shoot.

Rooms and Cottages at Migis Lodge

Cottages are upscale-country, with great internet service, lots of outlets, travertine marble tiled bath and showers, and cathedral ceilings.

Daybreak, a one bedroom cottage overlooking the resort’s sole sweat-lodge – aka a dry sauna hut heated by firewood, its little chimney pumping out smoke – also has a living room with fireplace and porch with views out to the lake.

All cottages and houses have been refreshed, some with renovated bathrooms, and are kept up and furnished as befits first-class lodging.

Dining at Migis Lodge

Three meals a day are included in the cost of a stay. Breakfast and lunch are informal affairs, but Migis has kept up its dress-for-dinner tradition. Men must wear jackets – and for women, resort casual dress applies. Seasonal wait-staff, like the genuinely friendly Anna Bolduck, are unpretentious as can be, and make sure that everything goes well, and is to your liking.

Each 5-course dinner includes a starter, salad, soup, main dish with side, and dessert, which you choose from a menu that changes often. On the menu the night I dined were old-fashioned favorites like Pan Seared Cod Loin, Veal Oscar, and Baked Lobster Thermidor. But chefs are adept at catering to a variety of dietary needs – so vegans will find several options, like the Vegetable Pad Thai, as well.  I could have slurped down several bowls of Wild Mushroom Ginger Soup, a sweet and hot consommé loaded with chunks of al dente mushrooms. A groaning dessert table, presided over by two young pastry chefs, featured Migis Lodge’s signature chocolate chip cookies and almond brittle, among other delectable desserts. This is not the place to start (or even adhere to) your diet.

Migis serves most meals in the dining room, but does have its annual traditions. Wednesday Lunch is “Island Cookout Day” – when guests are taken to Migis Island for a swim and meal. Every Friday Evening, it’s the popular Lobster Bake. Saturday night is Buffet Night, and Sunday morning brings Breakfast Cookout at the Point.

Amenities at Migis Lodge

Explore Lake Sebago via kayak, rowboat, SUP, or canoe (complimentary use), or motorboat (nominal fee). You can spend a whole day on the 5 mile by 7 mile lake (43 miles of shoreline!) paddling, rowing or motoring to Eagle Island (protected, with lots of Bald Eagles), Frye Island (where locals used to jump off the cliff at “Frye’s Leap” – no longer allowed), or spend most of the day cruising from Sebago to Long Lake via the Songo River and it’s one ancient lock.

It’s a bucolic ride to the lock and its adjacent hand-cranked swing bridge– either by car (very fast) or boat. If Migis takes you back to a simpler time, this bridge and lock experience will cement you there. (Songo Locks are open May 1-June 15, and Labor Day to Oct 15 8am-4:30pm, and June 15-Labor Day 8am-7:30pm.

Weekly activities are part of the fun here, and are included in the nightly room/cottage rate. There’s a Migis Cocktail Party on Mondays (complimentary cocktails), A Lake Cruise on Tuesday and Thursday, Bingo on Wednesday Night (with great prizes!), and Karaoke after Friday’s Lobster Bake.

Besides the above, Migis offers water-ski and wakeboard instruction three times a day, and fishing poles for those so inclined to drop a line.

There are several tennis courts and a 9-hole Disc Golf Course with equipment loaned for free.

The open-air Fitness Center has the most updated machines.

And the supervised children’s programs keep little ones busy, with hands-on activities like tie-dying and crafting.

Just the Facts

Rates range from $334-$434 per person per night in summer and $204-$296 from after Labor Day to mid-October (depending on accommodation), and includes three meals a day, complimentary use of non-motorized watercraft, children’s programs, fitness center, Waterskiing and Wakeboarding group instruction. Though open seasonally from Father’s Day weekend in June until Columbus Day Weekend in October, high season is July and August. To avoid crowds, the best time to come is in mid June or September, when the weather is still warm enough to swim – or at least take advantage of the lake. Just be warned: Migis takes check or cash only for payment. No credit cards.

Cliff House, Cape Neddick ME: Newly Hip

InStyle Magazine called the re-imagined Cliff House on Cape Neddick ME one of the best spots in the world to get engaged, and when you drive past lovely shore homes, pull into the long drive, and at last enter this Oceanside resort that conjures up images of Jane Eyre on the moors, you’ll understand why. You have to make a concerted effort to reach the new and vastly improved hotel, just a 10-minute drive from York Beach or Ogunquit. Once you get here, however, you may not want to venture out to those crowded locales.

Walk through the blue front door into a sunny lobby, and although the dark reclaimed wood floor is as old as the hills, the whole blasted place feels as fresh as the breezes that blow over the moody Atlantic Ocean– right outside a soaring wall of windows.The Cliff House has been in existence since Captain Theodore and Elsie Weare built a lodge atop these rocks in 1866. Back then, you could stay a whole week for a mere $6. The hotel stayed in the Weare family until 2015 when it was purchased by Rockbridge as a Destination Hotel, and then basically gutted and rebuilt for today’s luxury traveler.

First Impressions of Cliff House

There are few resorts on earth with the kind of unspoiled beauty you’ll find at the Cliff House. Generally, a wild location like this with unparalleled views would be crammed with commercial development, but that’s not the case on Cape Neddick, a few miles and worlds away from Maine’s most populated tourist towns.

Yes, there are several private homes wedged into neighboring cliffs, and the Cliff House itself is building a second wing to nearly double its number of rooms (from 126 to 226), but other than that, it’s pretty remote.

The Cliff House is luxurious, but not flamboyantly so. TrueXCullins designed the interior in modern Scandinavian style, with a nod to the property’s nautical lineage. Deck-like wood floors hark back to the days of sailing ships, ships knots are arrayed behind the reception desk, and of course, a bank of two-story windows overlooks the endless Atlantic and those bald cliffs that give this hotel its name.

Rooms at Cliff House

Guestrooms are ship shape in nautical navy, ecru and white. The bedding is so incredibly soft, voluminous, and snuggly, this place could be a waterside shack and the sheets/duvet/mattress combo would render it a 5 star hotel.

The King Deluxe room features a linen-clad couch, round ottoman, large flat screen TV and plenty of storage space. Two khaki-colored canvas captain’s chairs and yachting cocktail table sit beneath an enlarged section of a nautical chart. The lines are simple and clean – as opposed to the temperamental Atlantic a swan’s-dive from the balcony.

Designers have updated the room for modern travelers. There are several outlets within reach of each bedside, and lights in the room are easy to turn off right before snoozing.A blue and white plaid plushy micro-fiber robe hangs in the small, but pretty bathroom, with flattering and ample light for makeup application (just sayin’ – it’s the small things that excite this traveler). Linen repeats in the textural tile glass rain shower, large enough for two.

Dining at Cliff HouseTiller: If available, ask for a window seat facing a rectangular cove where the Atlantic runs up against the rocks. It’s a show better than anything on TV or your electronic device, so please leave those in your room. From here, you can enjoy excellent food, a glass of wine, and, if lucky, leaping whales or gallivanting seals right outside.

Yes, these creatures have been known to show up, though dishes like the Cider-Glazed Brussels Sprouts ($7), Peppers and Potatoes ($7), and larger plates like Day Boat Scallops with Pork Belly ($41) and other entrees ($31-$41) will hold your attention as well (though not as dramatically).

Breakfast, often with fogged-in view of the jagged, angular rocks outside, is a la cart – with offerings like Zucchini Bread French Toast, Cracked Oats with Maine Maple Syrup and Continental Breakfast breads.

Nubb’s Lobster Shack: Near indoor pool, this very casual eatery highlighting Maine’s most notable dish, includes an arcade space with foosball, darts and shuffleboard.

The Spa at Cliff House

This is a full-service spa with 9 treatment rooms, a “movement room” offering yoga classes, and other “Holistic Wellness Experiences” that focus on mind, body, and soul rather than exterior beauty. During high season, you must book a treatment to use the dry and wet saunas, but all guests are invited to use both the indoor and outdoor pools and fitness center. “Escape and Wonder” body treatments – Water, Stone, Sun, or Sea, $200 for 80 minutes. Massage from $80 for 25 minutes to $200 for 80 minutes.

Amenities at Cliff House

Gallery at Bald Head Cliff – in the underground connector between the main building and indoor pool building, showcasing some of the best local artwork, for sale.

Fitness Center with machines overlooking Ocean.

Indoor and Outdoor pools

Just the Facts

Cliff House is open year round. Rooms from $209 low season to $750 high season per night, plus resort fee $22 per day per person. Through July 31,  $150 resort credit as a part of  a Summer Solstice package, based on availability. 

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