Freelance Writing

Lisa Skriloff Bio
Trip Report: Dublin-Tullamore-Galway #NoRentalCar Sept/October 2017
Multicultural Meetings and Events Will Be Key as Minorities Become the Majority
Tribeca Film Festival 2017 Film Review – Keep the Change and The Sensitives
THE IMBIBLE: A SPIRITED HISTORY OF DRINKING – a Review
Lucky Dragon Enters the Las Vegas Strip
Q&A with Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino’s Blaire Dela Cruz
Vintage Vegas at the Tuscany Suites & Casino, by Lisa Skriloff
Heritage, History and Hispanic explorers in San Diego
Planning Your Perfect French Cultural Vacation in Québec City
Two Weeks in Sicily: A How-To Guide for Do-It-Yourselfers for Crowdsourcing the Ideal Itinerary
Diversifying The Visitor Base to The Adirondacks: An Interview at The Wild Center with Multicultural Travel News
Cartagena, Colombia
Trip of Love: A 60s Journey Through Song and Dance – Now playing Off Broadway
Solari’s Restaurant- First Tuesdays Big Band Dinner & Dancing
Low Cost Airline Volaris Inaugurates Service from JFK – Continues Focus on the Hispanic Market
A Quick. Quick. Slow. Slow. Long Weekend in Nashville
Ecuador Tourism Ad Campaign Includes Super Bowl Spot, Hispanic Media, Engagement with Ecuadorian Community
Multicultural Oakland, California
The Mohonk Mountain House Ballroom Dance Weekend December 2010

Lisa Skriloff Bio

Lisa Skriloff is a travel writer and Founder/Editor of Multicultural Travel News and Dance Travel News.

She also is a business owner, of Multicultural Marketing Resources (on the web at multicultural.com,) a marketing consulting firm and publisher.

Multicultural Travel News newsletter covers destinations and news of interest to multicultural travelers including Hispanic, African American, Asian American, women, LGBT travelers and people with disabilities.

Dance Travel News (dancetravelnews.com) offers travel news and information for people who like to dance and also like to travel, such as where to go out dancing around the US and abroad, upcoming dance weekends, supper clubs with dancing to live bands, dance cruises and dance performances., Dance Travel News typically covers news items about where to enjoy ballroom dancing, swing dancing, west coast swing, foxtrot, rumba, mambo, waltz, cha cha, salsa, tango, hustle, country 2-step and more.

As a freelance travel writer, Lisa has contributed to The New York Daily News, LatinTrends Magazine, Travel Agent Magazine and Fodors Guides. She specializes in multicultural travel, Spanish language destinations, dance and cruise travel.

Lisa’s family lived in Brooklyn, NY until she was 5 when they moved to Germany, London and California before moving to Larchmont, NY when she was in the 7th grade. She attended Hommocks Middle School and Mamaroneck High School.

During summers off while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she lived in Mexico to study Spanish and then started her career as a Bilingual Elementary School Teacher in Madison. After teaching for two years, she relocated to Madrid, Spain where she taught English as a Second Language and also wrote travel articles for an English language city publication in Madrid.

Further travel adventures have brought her to over 60 countries.

As a speaker, Lisa has addressed the Caribbean Media Exchange Conference in St. Thomas, USVI on “Multicultural Tourism” and the Educational Travel Conference:Opening Doors to Open Minds

Prior to starting her marketing firm in 1994, Lisa had a 10-year career at The New York Times in the marketing, advertising and circulation departments. Previously, Lisa worked in the Hispanic market as a Spanish radio advertising sales rep for Caballero Spanish Media in New York where she also wrote their monthly newsletter, Hispanic Age.

Lisa teaches “Multicultural Marketing: How to Target the Multicultural Consumer” at New York University’s (NYU) School of Professional Studies, a course she launched in 2001.

Lisa lives in New York City’s Greenwich Village as well as New Jersey and Las Vegas.

A few recent articles include:

multicultural-oakland-california http://bit.ly/1tNWcxi

The Mohonk Mountain House Ballroom Dance Weekend http://bit.ly/1yQEWh3

Contact information:

Lisa Skriloff
lisa@multicultural.com
multicultural.com
212-242-3351


Trip Report: Dublin-Tullamore-Galway #NoRentalCar Sept/October 2017

A trip report with day by day itinerary, recommendations and links, useful for others visiting these cities and traveling between them by train and bus.

If I were to choose keywords to characterize our trip I would highlight #no rental car and our themes of #dancing, #dining and #distilleries.

We also like to walk a lot, get around by foot rather than metro or taxi, with my personal best of 25,000 steps – as tracked on the iphone Pacer app – on a vacation day.

Pre-trip checklist: Check the weather – http://www.met.ie/; reserve key restaurant reservations in each city on their websites or using http://www.opentable.ie/‎. We also meant to pre-trip do the following but did none of these: Download mytaxi app, find a Hop on Hop Off coupon online, book key tours at attractions in advance

Dublin – 4 Nights

Wed Sept 20 – Airport arrival from overnight flight from the States – bus transfer to city (Bus 747 to Christ Church Cathedra stop)

Hotel check in Handels Hotel Temple Bar www.thekeycollection.ie/handelshotel.html 16 – 18 Fishamble Street.

They had a record of my email requesting a room with a view of the river. But our room, of course, wasn’t available at our early arrival so we walked over for Breakfast at the adorable Queen of Tarts main restaurant. http://www.queenoftarts.ie First of many Full Irish breakfasts.

From there we walked along the River path to the Guinness Storehouse and luckily we were able to have immediate entry. (Passed the Brazen Head Pub – oldest pub in Dublin – along the way but saved our visit for another day.) At the Guinness Storehouse (self-guided tour) I liked the advertising display of Guinness slogans and characters and TV commercials over the years, the photo booth and the view from the Gravity Bar where we enjoyed our free glass of beer. https:/…tickets

Returned to the hotel to nap which is when I became aware of the construction noise and church bells chiming every 15 minutes. The room faced the front of the hotel and I did see a sliver of the river but since it faced the street the sound of jack hammers and chain saws prevented any nap. Surely they would be stopping work by 5 pm, right?

Dinner – Vintage Cocktail Club 15 Crown Alley in Temple Bar waking distance from the hotel. Had booked on opentable weeks earlier. With opentable because you can easily book in advance and cancel easily online if your plans change.

The restaurant, as the name implies, has an extensive cocktail menu, a menu with so many pages it is really a book. https://vintagecocktailclub.com/cocktails/ How to choose? The waitress said, well if you like Cosmos, I recommend one of the Tiki drinks. I liked his better, a Sidecar with a sugar rim. With its speakeasy vibe, the restaurant is hard to find. Look for the “apartment” door with mailbox style letters VCC and then ring.

Having researched swing dancing in Dublin, I found boogiebeatswing.com, http://www.dublindy.com/ and https://swingscene.ie/dublin/ and knew there would be dancing to dj music at the Turk’s Head, inside the Paramount Hotel 27 Parliament St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Entry price was €8. By the time we got there after our dinner, the crowd was a little thin and we were tired so we danced a few and went back to our hotel.

While it’s true we knew what we were getting into by booking at a hotel in the Temple Bar area, I was prepared for a little noise from rowdy revelers in the area, but not for church bells chiming every 15 minutes. The construction noise had stopped, yes, and I fell asleep quickly but then the bells woke me up at 4:15 am, when I became aware of the sing songy melody. Ding dong ding dong. Then at 430 am it repeated twice. Ding dong ding dong Ding dong ding dong. Then 445 am three times. Ding dong ding dong, Ding dong ding dong, Ding dong ding dong. I laid awake listening. I tried to fall asleep again between chimes but I guess it takes me 16 minutes to fall asleep. And finally at 5 am the melody four times and 5 rings of the bell. We got the two fans going in the room in hopes that the white noise would drown out the bells.

Thursday Sept 21

In the morning I went to speak to the front desk manager about changing rooms. She had been so lovely when we checked in and helpful with maps and directions. While there were other rooms available for us to move to she admitted that one of them was near the elevator and the other faced the back closer to the bars which for some reason dispose of their nightly trash by breaking the bottles and this can be heard from the room. In any case, all rooms of the hotel are in earshot of the church. I asked, Any availability at your sister properties? She contacted the head office and found a room at the Hotel San George and graciously paid for a taxi to take us there and transferred our prepayment to that hotel.

Checked in to the Hotel San George, which is located across the river on Connelly Street. This was a good location since it was in walking distance to the first stop of the Hop on Hop Off Bus. We bought the bus tickets from the front desk and headed out first for a nearby breakfast at Kingfisher 166 Parnell Street, supposedly where the locals go www.kingfisherdublin.com/.

It was already late for breakfast, having spent the morning changing hotels but luckily we discovered such a thing as “All Day Breakfast” a menu item we found at many pubs – not “breakfast all day” but the Irish breakfast platter served anytime.

By the time we validated our two-day Hop on Hop off bus ticket it was after 2 pm. That worked out great because it gave us time this very first afternoon to do a complete two-hour loop, see the city and think ahead to attractions we’d return to over the next two days. We specifically bought tickets for the Green bus because I read right here on TripAdvisor forum that this bus line had live commentary versus a canned recording. So imagine my disappointment when we boarded and found out they would be using a recording. What?! I said to the guide. Not even a live joke or two? I guess he took that as a challenge because then we heard two hours of them. “This is the cemetery where the inventor of the crossword puzzle is buried. He’s at 3 down and 2 across.”; “This is the maternity hospital. There’s a 9 month wait to get in. And more people leave than go in.;” “This is the statue of Molly Malone and the famous song. Unfortunately for you, it goes something like this.” And those were just the family friendly jokes I can repeat here. Try to get on his tour. Paul Brooks.

The loop ended where it began, on Connelly street and from there we walked over to the Jameson Distillery and joined the tour that was starting in one minute at 5 pm.

After the tour and our whiskey cocktails we walked back along the Henry St. pedestrian mall, shopped at Bag City and peeked in at The Church Bar & Restaurant thechurch.ie to see the unique venue. I’m satisfied with a quick look at a restaurants and bars I had read about in advance, without having to eat or drink in each of them. There were more restaurants in Dublin that I wanted to try than mealtimes over the 5 days. During this trip I also popped my head in to Chapter One on Parnell Square. We already had a molecular gastronomy type meal planned in Galway so a quick look at the menu and the interior gave me enough of an idea to save this for our next trip.

Dinner – Winding Stair – http://www.winding-stair.com/ 40 Lower Ormond Quay, a fabulous meal of beet salad and steak, followed by a drop in to the Downtown Blues Social Dancing Party at Adelphi 52 Middle Abbey Street Dublin 1. www.DowntownBluesDublin.com

Friday Sept 22

Ok, overnight at the Hotel San George, was much quieter although this room was in earshot of a school so we were woken by the schoolyard playground sounds below. Am I really complaining about children and church bells? The room was very comfortable for the three nights we stayed here although the bathroom shower stall was the smallest I’ve ever seen and it was tricky to maneuver around the sink to get in. Nevermind, we very much appreciated the welcome bottle of wine the hotel had waiting for us in the room.

Breakfast – Lily’s Café 3A Cavendish Row

Day trip to Howth – We walked over to the Connolly train station and took the 12:33 DART for the 30 minute trip. From the station in Howth we walked around the Pier where we considered those restaurants for our later lunch but ended up going to The Abbey Tavern for seafood chowder.

That was just across the street the Hurley-Gurley Vintage Radio Museum in the Martello Tower, an owner’s collection of old time radios, phonographs and radio themed memorabilia, which we thoroughly enjoyed, being collectors ourselves. Two useful websites to plan the trip http://www.visithowth.ie and http://aqua.ie/things-to-see-do-in-howth/

Back in Dublin, we considered taking in a show from the http://fringefest.com/ schedule but since tonite was Culture Night https://culturenight.ie we wandered around instead with the crowds around Dublin though the lines were too long to visit any museums. Did enjoy a pop in look around at the The Shelbourne Hotel 27 St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Hotel.

The National Leprechaun Museum tours were sold out so we just took a photo of the front door sign.

Dinner – Rustic Stone rusticstone.ie Tried and loved the hot stone cook it yourself halibut with walnut relish and the Tuna with coriander

Madigan’s – listen to traditional music, some dancing going on

Sat 23rd

Full Irish Breakfast – Murray’s Pub

-free entrance w hop on hop off ticket at The Little Museum of Dublin https://www.littlemuseum.ie

Irish Whiskey Museum tour

Lunch – Bank Bar and Restaurant, in a converted Victorian bank http://www.bankoncollegegreen.com/restaurant/

Antiquing : Frances St shops; Dublin Vintage Shop on Capel St.; http://www.georgesstreetarcade.ie/ ; https:/…

Teeling Whiskey Distillery 13-17 Newmarket,https://teelingdistillery.com/

We hadn’t booked ahead so when we arrived the tour was sold out, so we just viewed the main floor exhibit and had a drink at the bar

Dinner – FX Buckly Steakhouse http://www.fxbuckley.ie/ Crow st. temple bar, reservations: crowstreet@fxbuckley.ie

Tullamore – 1 night

Sunday Sept 24

11:35 am Dublin Heuston Station train arrive 12:39 Tullamore

Tickets purchased online in advance, printed tickets out upon arrival at the station

lunch at the restaurant at Tullamore Dew Visitor Center

230 tour – 90 minute Whiskey Wise MasterClass https://www.tullamoredew.com/en-gb/visit-us/

Dinner – Captain House Restaurant, Main street, Tullamore, captainhouserestaurant.ie

Hotel: Central Hotel Tullamore

Galway – 5 nights

Sept 25 Monday

Before we left Tullamore we took a nice walk from Central Hotel to the Charleville Castle. It was too early for tours but we enjoyed the stroll through the woods and a look around the Castle grounds.

14:18 train from Tullamore, arrive 15:43 Galway

Hotel Meyrick

Dinner McDonagh’s http://mcdonaghs.net/ 22 Quay Street, Fish & Chips and the 3 course special

Swing dancing at Busker Brownes bar, Black Magic Big Band 10 pm – midnight. No cover, Cross Street

Tues Sept 26

Hop On Hop Off Galway – one complete loop around then a second trip with a stop in Salthill to walk the promenade. City bus back to Eyre Square.

230 boat ride on the Corrib Princess http://www.corribprincess.ie/ a 90 minute guided boat trip up the River Corrib onto Lake Corrib and back

Drinks Bierhaus on Henry street. Tried the Galway Hooker beer

Dinner – Aniar http://aniarrestaurant.ie/. Choice of 5, 8 or 10 course tasting menu.

Monroes Tavern stopped by to watch the locals enjoy their regular Tuesday night Traditional Irish set dancing (looks like square dancing.) Dominick Street, www.monroes.ie

Open Mic Night at The Western Hotel, 10pm – had a Powers whiskey while listening to talented locals one by one playing the guitar and singing traditional music and some contemporary

Wed Sept 27

Day trip with Healey Tours – Connemara and Kylemore Abbey

Dinner – Il Vicolo Italian restaurant

Swing dancing – Garveys Bar Eyre Sq rockabilly band The Screaming Bluecats http://www.garveysinn.com/

More swing dancing sources:

Swing Forum Galway on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/swingforumgalway/

Galway Swing on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GalwaySwing/ and http://galwayswing.com/

Also https://swingscene.ie/galway/ and http://swingdancegalway.com/

Thurs Sept 28

Day trip with Wild Atlantic Way Tours – combo tour included ferry and visit Aran Islands (Inisheer) with tour of island by pony cart, then Cliffs of Moher visit by boat and then cliff top. Great guide Phil ODonndubhartaigh

Seafood Dinner at Martine’s of Quay Street, http://martines.ie/

Comedy Club – Dew Drop Inn

Too late for a drink at Tribeton (art deco interior)

Fri Sept 29

Breakfast at An Púcán, Forster Street, www.anpucan.ie

Visit to Galway City Museum and Legend of the Claddagh Ring Visitor Center

Antiquing at An Gailearai Beag – Antiques Shop at 4 Flood Street and Galway Crafts and Collectables at Corbett Court Shopping centre

Peeked in at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Griffin’s Bakery Shop Street and Aunty Nellie’s Sweet Shop.

Tried to visit Nora Barnacle Museum but it was closed.

Afternoon tea at Cupán Tae with the traditional 3 tiered china stand https://cupantae.eu/

Dinner Ard Bia www.ardbia.com local sourced (Venison was on the menu that night)

Wine and listen to John Conneely swing jazz band at Black Gate14 Francis Street http://www.blackgate.ie. He was great, buying his music. http://johnconneely.net/

Swords (Dublin Airport) 1 night

Sat Sept 30 Eireagle express bus, run by CityLink Non-stop to Dublin airport www.citylink.ie , then Premier Inn 2 euro shuttle bus from bus bay 16 to hotel

Check in Premier Inn hotel near Dublin Airport located in a shopping mall complex which also had a Friday’s and other fast food outlets. But I said, I’m not eating at a Friday’s, how about a 20 minute walk to dinner in Swords to Sagarmatha Kitchen http://www.sagarmathakitchen.ie which I saw recommended on TripAdvisor. The website said it was the best Nepalese restaurant in Dublin. He nixed that suggestion saying, Would you go to an Irish Pub if you were in Nepal? So we skipped that and made our own walking tour of the town, the Castle, and the park and then headed to https://theoldschoolhouse.ie/.

Even though we did a lot we already made a list of what to do next trip, as we will certainly be back.

By Lisa Skriloff, Editor, Multicultural Travel News


Multicultural Meetings and Events Will Be Key as Minorities Become the Majority

This article appeared in Skift Magazine May 2017 issue https://skift.com/2017/05/03/multicultural-meetings-and-events-will-be-key-as-minorities-become-the-majority/

by Lisa Skriloff

Bringing more multicultural groups to a destination for meetings and events isn’t just good business. It’s also good for local communities and future tourism, too.

— Deanna Ting

With the United States poised to become a minority-majority country by 2040, multicultural markets are no longer a niche outreach business target for convention & visitors bureaus and destination marketing organizations.

Philadelphia is already a minority-majority city, said Greg DeShields, executive director, PHL Diversity, a business development division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which works to increase Philadelphia’s share of diverse/multicultural meetings and tourism.

“There are a lot of assets in this market for meeting conference attendees,” he said. “Eighty-one percent of room nights consumed by PHL Diversity-related groups fell in hotel need periods.”

Launched two years ago, PHL Diversity Podcasts strive to “give a good sense of the destination and how leadership influencers have a consistent point of view of Philadelphia being a diverse and welcoming city,” DeShields said. The group recorded 30 podcasts so far this year, including interviews with Marriott’s vice president of multicultural affairs, Apoorva Gandhi; Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. executive director John Chin, and Iron Chef Jose Garces, for instance.

“By leading the charge in hospitality inclusion efforts, PHL Diversity aims to spur the advancement of meetings and conventions in the coming years. We envision an industry in which each interest group feels valued because of their unique perspective,” said DeShields.

REACHING OUT TO PEOPLE OF COLOR

From Fort Lauderdale to New York City, tourism entities are reaching out to a broader clientele than they might have done in years’ past.

“With the growing changes in the demographics, our destination is now [comprised of] more than 54 percent individuals of color,” said Albert Tucker, vice president of multicultural business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. “This market segment also travels when our hotels need the business the most, and it supports good economics.”

New York City likewise has put out a welcome map for diverse groups.

“We have done significant outreach to all these groups and more,” said Jerry Cito, SVP of convention development for NYC & Company, said regarding African American, Hispanic, LGBT, and Asian American groups, people with disabilities, seniors, and women- and minority-owned businesses or organizations. “New York City is a melting pot of culture and diversity, and we welcome all groups to see what a New York City meeting can do for them.”

DeShields added African diaspora and Native American to this list of diverse/multicultural groups that PHL Diversity devotes resources to and provides services for.

Cara Banasch, senior vice president of business development and strategy for the New Orleans CVB, said she also looks at “diverse religious gatherings and fraternal groups. Diversity covers a lot of special interests and the list grows and changes constantly.”

Interviews with tourism show that the hallmarks of success for convention and visitors bureaus around the country that have increased meetings business from diverse groups include: recognizing changing demographics; responding to the political climate and national news; involving the local multicultural community; having a dedicated budget plus long-term commitment, and thinking ahead about the next generation that will make up the travel industry.

Recruiting young people for tourism careers may indeed help in the effort to attract more diverse groups of meeting attendees.

“Building relationships is key,” said Connie W. Kinnard, vice president of multicultural tourism and development at the Greater Miami CVB, which also offers www.multiculturalmiami.com as a companion to the CVB’s main website. “Good relationships lead to good outcomes.”

Thinking ahead to the next generation, Kinnard said, “The push to get youth to understand that this industry is lucrative and multifaceted so that they will choose it as a career path is a need.”

Involving the local community and addressing city-related national news head on is what brought groups to St. Louis, Missouri, and Durham, North Carolina.

GETTING LOCALS INVOLVED IS KEY IN ST. LOUIS

Explore St. Louis president Kitty Ratcliffe said, “One of the things we do is work with local community members who are connected to a variety of diverse audiences. We work with the St. Louis Mosaic Project, which is representative of many different cultures within the community, to help us identify convention groups. Many of those are fraternal groups or professional groups of a particular ethnic background or culture.”

She added, “We are working with local Pakistani physicians to bring their convention here. We are working with Indian professionals for their convention coming up, the Telugu Association of North America. We worked with the Ancient Order of Hibernians to attract that national convention as well.”

“Working with locals is always important,” Ratcliffe said. “One of the things I always ask the sales team is, ‘Who is the local on this?’” Once identified, her team will involve that person on a board, or a committee.

“They have a lot of insight that we won’t find out just by doing general research and can help us craft the bid the right way. Some of the groups want you to involve the locals, to provide volunteer support or instructors for some sessions or content.”

Ratcliffe has found this approach to be very successful, particularly with Indian groups with whom she has worked.

“They have a very large vegetarian attendance … so working upfront with the locals helped us understand that and position our food service operation the right way.”

In fact, for the Telugu Association of North America, which is coming in May, she said, “They have specific food requirements, so we are letting them in the kitchen in the convention center.”

The city will host the National Urban League Conference in July. “Of particular importance for us was that the National Urban League was willing to meet in St. Louis this year in light of the events that occurred in Ferguson a few years ago and the media attention that occurred in this suburban community of St. Louis,” said Ratcliffe. “We invited them to meet here, and it is an opportunity for them to see Ferguson and put it into context and use St. Louis as a forum of a discussion of some very challenging issues.”

She underscored that the meeting itself, when thousands will be in St. Louis, “serves a more important role than just the economic contribution that particular week. We made a concerted effort to ask [them]. We the organization, from the highest level, went to them and asked them to meet in St. Louis.” She noted that “Some things require a different kind of conversation first.” Ratcliffe personally attended one of the group’s meetings to ask them to consider her destination for the National Urban League’s next meeting.

April Ellerbe, director of sales for the Durham CVB works closely with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and has perfected the conversation of how to market to these groups differently than how they market to financial insurance and corporate groups, and has designed special itineraries for multicultural markets. Her philosophy? “Don’t invite me to the party; ask me to dance. I think that what that means is without diversity, there is no growth. Without diversity there is a perception we are not being stretched,” Ellerbe said.

She also said, “North Carolina has gone through this strange period where we had HB2, a law that did not allow transgender individuals to use the appropriate bathroom. Because of that it was a huge hit on North Carolina which saw a decrease in meetings. The great thing about Durham, we didn’t see a huge decrease like our neighboring cities, because of who we are. We are inclusive. We stand on what we believe.”

An Associated Press analysis released in March said North Carolina’s bathroom bill will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over the next dozen years. That law was partially repealed in April.

Another strategy for bringing more diverse groups involves enlisting city government support.

Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach CVB, said “Our mayor, Robert Garcia, has been instrumental in reaching out to Hispanic organizations to promote our city, i.e., Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. And as one of the first openly gay mayors of a major city, [he] has helped us reach out to LGBT groups. Our CVB staff is also ethnically diverse, with Asian American, African American, and Hispanic sales directors and support staff.”

Echoing the “local” sentiment, Jason Dunn, vice president of multicultural and community development for the Cincinnati USA CVB said, “I keep an open dialogue going with as many local groups as possible so that they become great ambassadors for our destination. We work very hard to build authentic relationships with our local groups. Lacking that, we would have no credibility as a multicultural destination.”

He mentioned that they “worked closely with the VA (Veterans Administration) to bring in the National Veteran’s Wheelchair Games.”

BUSINESS VISITATIONS ARE IMPORTANT IN D.C.

Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC said, “As we look to continue increasing business travel, diversity is an important part of our market mix, making up 12 percent of the business we attract to D.C.”

Ferguson noted the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association of Black Journalists/National Association of Hispanic Journalists, both of which recently chose to meet in D.C. “Networking and participating in industry associations is what creates the relationships and business follows. People want to work with people they like, first and foremost, so relationship building is incredibly important.”

Marie Sueing, vice president of multicultural community relations for Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation cited the upcoming National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference in 2018.

“Music of all genres is at the heart of Nashville. It is critical that we attract groups that reflect – and nurture – the diversity of Music City, and that by doing so, foster the economic development of businesses owned by those in the ethnic, multicultural and LGBTQ communities.”

Shun Hatten, VP of sales for Visit Jackson said, “As a destination organization it is important to us to be able to market to all multicultural groups … Our city is a very diverse city. It is important to us as an organization to be inclusive.”

The Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, The Red Door Foundation, and the Conference of Minority Public Administrators are a few examples of organizations that selected Jackson.

Las Vegas will be hosting the 2017 National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) International Business & Leadership Conference at Caesars Palace this summer.

Jim McMichael, specialty markets manager for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, said, “I was brought on board based on my experience dealing with the LGBT community.” For 23 years in a row. Las Vegas has been the No. 1 trade show destination in the U.S. so McMichael is in a good position to offer advice to conventions and visitors bureaus about reaching out to multicultural groups.

“Ask, Is there a chamber of commerce that supports that particular minority? A great way to get started is to interact with them to understand what those groups are looking for.”

Involving the community is also what Rick Blackburn, vice president, convention sales and destination services for the Greater Palm Springs CVB, hopes will attract meetings with attendees from diverse backgrounds.

“The LGBT community has embraced the Greater Palm Springs area for decades on the leisure side, but we have discovered that groups/conventions don’t automatically follow, so we have been proactively searching for groups to contact,” Blackburn said. “LGBT groups are a natural fit for us as we have worked hand in hand with this community for decades.”

Emily Lauer, a spokeswoman for Destination Cleveland, said “As an emerging meetings and events location … Cleveland attracts many leads that fall within some of the multicultural and special interest categories given the city’s diversity — we’re home to residents representing more than 100 ethnicities — and its welcoming environment and Midwest hospitality.

“Since just 2013 when the city opened its new convention center, Cleveland has hosted citywide events including Gay Games (2014), Senior Games (2013), as well as groups such as Teamsters National Black Caucus (2016), Sigma Gamma Rho, Inc. (2016), and Alcoholics Anonymous International Women’s Conference (2017).”

Fort Lauderdale’s Tucker had additional advice to convention bureaus looking to attract a multicultural audience.

“My advice would be to understand the economic value of this market and to get on board and provide the necessary direction and funding to attract this important market segment. The multicultural market is a vibrant market that should be respected, marketed to in an appropriate manner and attention should be paid to the cultural nuances.”

DeShields outlined a three-step plan for CVBs on how to get started in multicultural group outreach: “Design a strategy grounded in extensive research to determine your return on investment. Develop an effective budget for the undertaking. Create a culture which values diversity and inclusion and human dignity.”

Cara Banasch, senior vice president of business development and strategy for the New Orleans CVB, said outreach takes commitment.

“Make the commitment and stay invested. It is not a quick turnaround market and organizations want to feel truly valued and understood, not only by their sales representatives but by local leaders and entities. Be prepared that decisions are made differently than traditional corporate entities and associations often with many volunteers who serve with their personal time and passion, and that the process may include a lot more decision makers that will need to support the choice.”

Diverse groups need to know that their presence is indeed wanted in various markets.

Said Visit Jackson’s Hatten: “Our world is continuously changing, and as a destination organization we have to be inviting to all groups.”


How Smart Event Organizers Are Using Big Data to Create Better Events

This article appeared in Skift Magazine May 2017 issue https://skift.com/2017/05/17/how-smart-event-organizers-are-using-big-data-to-create-better-events/

by Lisa Skriloff
Limitations remain, but there’s a goldmine of data available that can help with sales, marketing, and production.
— Deanna Ting

When the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in 1774, simply knowing that 12 of the 13 colonies were sending delegates was likely more than enough to count as attendee data.

Today’s meeting planners, however, need more data than just how many people are coming to put on a relevant event for attendees and make money for conference producers. Technology from social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as websites and apps from companies like BizzaboCventEventbase, and Eventbrite are filling in those knowledge gaps.

GETTING A MORE HOLISTIC VIEW OF THE EVENT

Emily Fullmer, global events manager at Greenbook, finds that the data she collects from Bizzabo, the technology vendor she selected for Greenbook’s IIeX North America conference, “has been immensely impactful in how we make our decisions” and gives her a more comprehensive overview of how her events are performing, benefiting her sales and marketing departments at the same time.

Fullmer said, “As an event planner, I can see, in real time, revenue numbers from a certain promotion on site, how many people have checked in. When you need something at your fingertips immediately, the data is always there at the time we need it.”

“We strongly believe that data is power,” said Bizzabo co-founder, CMO, and COO Alon Alroy. The company works with corporations, publishers, marketing agencies, associations and third-party planners to “help people create a better website, to promote their event via email and social media, maximize participation, and maximize engagement.” Its technology also integrates easily with Linkedin, MailChimp, and Salesforce among others.

With the help of modern technology platforms like Bizzabo and others, event organizers can easily access and analyze data to make data-driven decisions that have a direct impact on the success of their events, whether they’re looking to “improve registration rates, enhance attendee experience, and provide noticeable ROI to other business units like sales or marketing,” Alroy explained.

Greenbook added the global conference IIeX, the Insight Innovation Exchange, five years ago, to its series of annual events and webinars which attract anywhere from 100 to 1,000 people per event.

“Bizzabo made the most sense from a user experience and logistics that met the needs of our sales team and marketing team and production,” said Fullmer. She explained that Greenbook, using Bizzabo technology, limits the amount of data collected during the registration process to make it as simple as possible. “Then everyone receives a confirmation email that triggers them to sign up for the community of attendees,” she said. “Then I rely on Bizzabo to tell us more about them. We can see what parts of the mobile app are being utilized, what facets of the event are most interesting to attendees, without asking them specifically.”

She highlighted notable Bizzabo features that tell her how a campaign is performing and with up to 150 speakers at an event, she can easily tell which speakers are generating the most interest based on engagement.

“Our marketing team loves the Ticket Boost functionality,” she added. “It allows them to see that … in a tight-knit market research community, which ones are making a difference.” She added, “If a platform neglects logistics it is a complete headache for an event organizer. But Bizzabo manages logistics and also marketing, while marketing is lost on other platforms.”

Ticket Boost acts as a referrals/reward system and Alroy described it as being modeled after “how Uber and Airbnb were able to turn users into advocates. When people purchase a ticket to an event, we incentivize them to share on social media and provide a discount and share that data with marketers.”

CHOOSING SPEAKERS, MORE EFFECTIVE MARKETING AND REGISTRATION

Scott Ehrlich, COO of DTC Perspectives, whose company produces the Hospital Marketing National Conference among others, uses data to know which speaker to feature in his event’s e-marketing blasts.

DTC Perspectives uses a combination of CventInfusionsoftConstant Contact, and its own internal website marketing tool for its annual conferences, the DTC National Conference, the Hospital Marketing National Conference and the DTC Forum on TV and Print/DTC Agency Vanguard Awards.

Ehrlich and John Woodbridge, DTC Perspectives’ director of business development and marketing said what they like, what they don’t and what they wish for.

“Cvent gives us conference marketing, registration and agenda in one fairly simple-to-use tool,” said Erlich. “Cvent is very plug and play.”

“Although what we do a lot of is revenue from conference registrations, a larger part of what we need software for is marketing and running transactions, processing things that aren’t a conference pass,” Woodbridge explained.

DTC sells sponsorships, reprints, advertising and list access “under an umbrella of 12 things that can be implemented at the conference,” said Woodridge. “One of the limitations of Cvent is that we can’t process a one-off transaction,” said Woodbridge. “Let’s say they purchase ‘early list access’. With Cvent they would have to buy it as a pass and then we use our own system to know they are not a conference attendee.”

Woodbridge cited two reports which he finds very useful: the Registrant Extract report, which he primarily uses for benchmarking to project how a conference will turn out, and the Abandon Registrations list. With that report, he said, “We email them, and send them a personal note saying, ‘I noticed you started to register and you dropped out. Is there anything we can do?’”

“Getting the info out of a report is great,” he said, “but timeliness is important to that sale. It would be nice to get an instant notification so I can call them.” Woodbridge often calls these “abandoned shopping cart” attendees to ask them why they didn’t register. Before the conference, he uses the list to find out what it will take to get them to register, and gives that to them, offering a discount when appropriate.

The combination of tech products and data available to DTC provides Woodbridge with a picture of “one person’s interaction and everyone as a whole.” “You can see, for example, that someone came to your website four times in the last month, they opened their email, they clicked that tweet and the sale was made through that tweet,” Woodbridge said.

Armed with survey data from attendees, Woodbridge said he finds it to be the most valuable information to use, and to harness into face-to-face meetings and interactions. “I’ve been on the phone with a handful of kind and generous marketers [conference attendees] getting feedback from them,” he said. I fly up and schedule trips simply to meet with people, to meet with them one on one and help serve them better. Hearing it directly from them, is the best way to do it.”

DTC doesn’t utilize Bizzabo’s suite of tech products, but Bizzabo’s Alroy said the company’s Hot Leads retargeting product also helps organizers reach out to attendees who may have had a case of cold feet.

“Sometimes people start the registration process but don’t complete it,” he explained. “We capture their information and we provide the organizer with a list. Then we send them an email [saying] ‘I saw you started to register. Here is a discount,’” Alroy said. He compared Hot Leads to what happens with Amazon, when “you are looking at a pair of shoes and then you see shoe ads chasing you all over the Internet.”

BUILDING BETTER RELATIONSHIPS WITH SPONSORS, GETTING TO KNOW ATTENDEES

Amanda Gottlieb, senior marketing manager at Working Mother Media uses Cvent software for its conferences, which include the WorkBeyond Summit, NAFE Top Companies for Executive Women, the Multicultural Women’s National Conference, the Global Women of Advancement Conference, Best Law Firms for Women Gala Awards Luncheon and Career Accelerator Summit, Men As Allies and Global Advancement of Women Conference.

“We collect basic attendee contact information as well as ask them if they want to opt in to our emails and how they heard about our event,” she said. “We also ask for dietary requirements, gender, ethnicity, job level, company size, industry type, and we ask, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, do you require specific aids or services? We also ask if they want to share that they are attending our event on social media.”

However, the type of data that is of most value, Gottlieb noted, is that which she can relate to her events’ sponsors. “A sponsor would want to know the event ROI — what did their attendees learn, was it useful and do they have info to bring back and share with their colleagues? How many attendees were there, what job level are they, etc.,” she explained.

“We send an evaluation post event asking for attendee feedback, rating each speaker, what they feel can be improved, what topics they want to learn about in the future, speakers they would like to see, etc. As a company, we look at attendance per event year over year — is the event growing, are the same people attending or are companies sending different employees?”

Asked what was on her wish list, Gottleib said, “We haven’t been able to track when attendees download our app which we would like to be able to do, so when we use an email to help promote the app, we’d like to know if that leads to more downloads prior to an event.”

GETTING TO KNOW MEMBERS BETTER

Horacio Gavilan, executive director of AHAA: The Voice of Hispanic Marketing, a trade organization representing the entire Hispanic marketing, communications and media industry, formerly known as the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, uses Euclid Technology’s Association Management Software, ClearVantage, which is tied in with the organization’s membership database.

“It’s a lot more comprehensive than just tracking an event,” he said. “I also track payment history, how long they have been members, when they came to the conference in the past, if they attended a webinar and anything else they bought from me.”

On his wish list of data, Gavilan said, “I know a lot about my members but I wish I could know the generational differences. But I also think there is no way for me to track it. I can only make those assumptions based on title.” Referring to Millennials, he noted, “I know they consume media differently, so how can I, as a meeting planner, make sure I am providing content that is relevant?”

Gavilan underscored, “It’s all about data and how you use data. Your organization would be foolish not to incorporate this into the planning process. Sometimes you don’t realize how much data is there.”


Tribeca Film Festival 2017 Film Review – Keep the Change and The Sensitives

What would it be like to be…..Autistic and in a Relationship? Allergic to everything? Two films screened at the Tribeca Film Festival 2017 immerse viewers in the worlds of David, trying to connect with the world in Keep the Change and Susie, trying to avoid it in The Sensitives.

Keep the Change explores the life of David, a high functioning autistic, single guy as he tries to date and fit in and then meets Sarah in a support group for adults with disabilities. This community gets well deserved attention in this comedy by writer/director Rachel Israel who collaborated with the lead actors, both on the autism spectrum, Brandon Polansky and Samantha Elisofon, drawing story elements from real life and love life. As Israel explains “Our ambition is to tell a love story that transcends the subject of disability and speaks to the universal need for human connection, and in the process to show how actors with autism can deliver compelling performances that are relatable to a wide audience.” In the “Narrative” category in the film festival, Keep the Change feels as real as an inspiring documentary providing awareness and laughter. Anyone who’s observed the world around them, sat across from a blind date, felt like an outsider or confounded for a moment by life in any way, or even anyone who’s never given any of those situations a second thought, will be overwhelmed with understanding what it’s like to be David/Brandon and Samantha/Sarah. No surprise the film won The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature and Best New Narrative Director to Rachel Israel for Keep the Change.

17098387_1864635353794529_3519170622541367518_nAnother kind of disability is examined in the documentary The Sensitives. Filmmaker Drew Xanthopoulos exposes us to the world of people for whom any exposure to modern life is a health risk. Multiple chemical and electromagnetic sensitivity – this little-known condition is a chronic illness with a spectrum of symptoms in people who react to the poisons of everyday cleaning products and cell phones. Anyone who’s had a negative reaction to a forced spray of perfume in a department store can only begin to imagine how someone must isolate themselves from a world of chemicals and electronics thrust upon them. Susie Molloy, both a sufferer and a champion, shows us the disease in action and her activism.

Stay in touch with these inspiring films and filmmakers at https://www.facebook.com/thesensitivesdocumentary/  and https://www.facebook.com/keepthechangefilm/

Lisa Skriloff


THE IMBIBLE: A SPIRITED HISTORY OF DRINKING – a Review

I was familiar with the Irish word for “Cheers” (Good Health) having seen “Sláinte” in writing  but had never heard it pronounced out loud until mixologist and raconteur Anthony Caporale uttered “Slan-cha” during the performance of THE IMBIBLE: A SPIRITED HISTORY OF DRINKING currently playing in New York City.

Salud, Na zdorovie, Skal, Proost, Cin cin, Sei gesund: These are the drinking toasts I have previously heard in action. Curious that Anthony, a walking Encyclopedia Britannica of knowledge (some facts from Wikipedia) didn’t expound on this custom from around the world during this entertaining evening billed as a musical comedy drinking show. Nevermind. A quick google search of my own found plenty of websites on how to say cheers in 50 languages.

Ready for the performance of THE IMBIBLE: A SPIRITED HISTORY OF DRINKING

The show takes place in a bar located in the New World Stages theatrical complex where 4 other shows are currently playing, including Avenue Q. Indeed during the intermission of those other shows, their audience members tried to crash our show, seeking a drink, thinking it was a working bar.

Actually it is a working bar and 3 complimentary craft cocktails are served to this over 21 audience during the course of the performance.  (The real bar in the building is called The Green Room.)

MC/singer/cocktail waitress/co-producer/director Nicole DiMattei  at the start of THE IMBIBLE: A SPIRITED HISTORY OF DRINKING

The difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink? Between a mixologist and a bartender? How beer is made (and brewed in front of us.) All these are revealed during this in-depth review of the 10,000 year history of alcohol. Even his explanation of the provenance of the word itself made me think about other “al-“   words: Alhambra popped into my mind.

Popcorn is placed at each table – seating is at banquets or cocktail tables — and the bowl refilled during the show as “Professor” Caporale spoke for almost 2 hours (can I get Continuing Education credit or at least a certificate?) and also made a yummy Gin and Tonic for everyone in the audience.

Three other cast members, The Backwaiters acapella group, provided vocal stylings, in multiple costume changes (cavemen, Egyptians, lab coated scientists, the Queen of England)  while serving as cocktail waiters for the audience.

Our other two drinks were a Shandy made of Coney Island Overpass IPA beer and Ginger Ale and a Creamsicle Old Fashioned.

This is the kind of audience participation I can agree to, while others answered questions Anthony threw out, or filled in the words to I Will Survive, as singer/cocktail waitress/co-producer/director Nicole DiMattei paused during her song.

Audience members who happened to be bartenders were urged to tell their favorite bar jokes and they complied.

I felt educated and nearly intoxicated (from the word “toxic” hence alcohol poisoning) as the evening progressed.  Luckily I had my own big drinker date with me, John, who happily finished off my drinks.

Immersive theater at its finest. If you’re trying to decide “shall we go to a show tonite, or just get a drink” no compromising needed here.

John in fact contributed his own joke: When I told him we’re going to a show that takes place in a bar, he quipped “A show walks into a bar. And the bartender said ‘Why the long farce?’ “

Visit http://imbible.nyc/ @the_imbible

By Lisa Skriloff, Multicultural Travel News, Multicultural Entertainment News


Lucky Dragon Enters the Las Vegas Strip

Q&A with Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino’s Blaire Dela Cruz

This article appeared in Successful Meetings Magazine Jan 2017 issue http://www.successfulmeetings.com/News/Destinations/West/Lucky-Dragon-Enters-Las-Vegas-Strip/

by Lisa Skriloff

In December, Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino (a nine-story hotel with 203 rooms, including 23 suites) opened in Las Vegas, the first newly built from-the-ground-up hotel in the city since 2010. Coinciding with the launch of Hainan Airlines’ nonstop service from Beijing, the hotel was opened with an eye toward appealing to the Asian-American market, incorporating feng shui elements, table games, specialty spa treatments, a tea sommelier, and heavy use of lucky number eight (hence phone number (702) 889-8018 and the octagon-shaped casino). Special Chinese New Year celebrations, starting Jan. 28, Year of the Rooster, are also planned. Vice President of Hotel Blaire Dela Cruz spoke to Successful Meetings:

Q: What does Lucky Dragon offer to group travelers?
A:
 Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino offers a unique environment where groups can enjoy an authentic Asian gaming, dining, and lifestyle experience — an atmosphere unlike any other on the Strip. Groups will enjoy private dining areas in Pearl Ocean, our dim sum and seafood specialty restaurant, and Phoenix, our fine-dining restaurant. In addition, the 1,250-square-foot penthouse suite features a living and dining area perfect for catered meetings and intimate events.

Outdoor functions are available at our pool, and Lucky Dragon is also very close in proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Q: Who is your core market?
A:
 The local and regional Asian-American clientele will be the largest market represented. Other domestic Asian-American markets are a close second, and Asian tourists, particularly with the new flight direct from Beijing, will represent an additional segment of our guests.

Q: How has the “authentic Asian cultural and gaming experience” been created?
A:
 From the very beginning, our property was designed with the rich history of Chinese culture in mind, to bring good luck and good fortune to all our guests.

The number four, unlucky due to the phonetic resemblance to the pronunciation of the Chinese word for “death,” is absent wherever possible. Guests will notice there is no fourth floor in our hotel tower, nor is there in our parking structure.

All property signage is in Chinese first, English second.  More than 70 percent of our staff of more than 750 is bilingual (both Mandarin and Cantonese). Our rooms feature [media with] the most Chinese-language channels available and more Chinese language programming than any other hotel in Las Vegas.

The core of Lucky Dragon’s authenticity is most likely found in our culinary program. With five restaurant concepts….we will feature the freshest and some of the rarest ingredients available.


Vintage Vegas at the Tuscany Suites & Casino, by Lisa Skriloff

Vintage Vegas lives on at the Tuscany Suites & Casino, a privately-owned, all-suite hidden gem on East Flamingo Road near the Las Vegas strip. Swing dancers who seek the ideal venue to stay, dine and dance in Las Vegas will find nightly live music for dancing in the Piazza Lounge at the Tuscany, also home to the tribute show, “The Rat Pack is Back.”

At 650 square feet, the newly-refurbished suites at Tuscany Suites & Casino are among the largest in the city with in-room kitchenettes, dining areas and open sitting areas in each room.

Earlier this month, Janice Paluzzi, Director of Catering, showed us around; we couldn’t help asking her to share some stories from her over 30 years of experience in catering and conventions working with prominent headline performers including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barbara Streisand, Neil Sedaka and Barry Manilow.

Now at the Copa Room at the Tuscany Casino, “The Rat Pack is Back,” in its 18th year and billed as the only full time Rat Pack show in the world, is “the next best thing to seeing the original Rat Pack themselves.”  These Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin headliner impersonators perform nightly at 7:30 pm. Tickets available at https://trpentertainment.ticketspice.com/the-rat-pack-is-back-show.

Dinner and a show combo is offered at the Tuscany Gardens, the fine dining Italian restaurant adjacent to the Piazza Lounge. We enjoyed a dinner of antipasto platter, cioppino(fennel scented tomato broth, mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari) for me, Surf and Turf for him and then 3 desserts for the 2 of us: their famous crème brulee, molten chocolate cake and affogato (espresso with vanilla ice cream.)

The Piazza Lounge, a no-cover cocktail lounge with live music nightly, features the favorite Laura Shaffer and the Noir Nightingale Trio on Monday nights bringing back the glamour and the fabulous music of the lounge era in Las Vegas. Count on her to indulge us with our favorite “Sunny Side of the Street” for a swing or foxtrot, and “Peel Me a Grape” for a west coast swing. Other favorites we have danced to: Cheek to Cheek, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ Straighten Up & Fly Right, Perfidia and You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.

Sunday nights in the Piazza Lounge there’s more dancing to “Nik at Nite,” Nikolas Mastrangelo singing Sinatra-era music. Entertainment schedule at http://www.tuscanylv.com/entertainment/.

Not only dancers but convention goers at the nearby Sands Expo Center and meeting planners will find convenience and value at the Tuscany Suites & Casino, ideal for extended stays. Indeed, meetings are more popular than weddings here as demand repurposed the wedding chapel into a meeting room. Family reunion, medical meeting and training session planners have 40,000 square feet to configure to their needs, from a 60-person classroom to a sit down dinner for 1100 with stage and screen to an outdoor balcony reception overlooking the pool. Learn more at http://www.tuscanylv.com/meetings-banquets/.


Heritage, History and Hispanic explorers in San Diego

San Diego’s sea, sun, surf and spa offerings have always beckoned to vacationers but a traveler with an interest in heritage, history and Hispanic explorers will also find a week’s worth of activities with nary a trip to the beach.

Here’s a blueprint –  by century –  to visit modern day San Diego with an eye toward the past.

1500s

Learn about the Spanish galleon that brought Explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo on Sept. 28, 1542 – the first European to set foot on the West Coast –  at The Maritime Museum of San Diego. Tour the ship museum, the San Salvador, or board it andsail on it via a Pacific Heritage Tour. This floating museum, actually,  a collection of historic vessels docked in the San DiegoBay for tourists to visit, has added this 11th ship, a historically accurate replica of the founding ship of San Diego and of the State of California. This working replica of the San Salvador, considered the “Mayflower of the West,” stands 60 feet tall and took the Maritime Museum five years to construct. Visitors: in addition to moving from one ship to another, via a series of interconnecting mini bridges, accept the upgrade and take a harbor tour on the 1914 Pilot boat with a 45 minute history bay cruises tour.

San Salvador

San Salvador

1700s

Overlooking Old Town San Diego is the Junipero Serra Museum founded in 1769, when Spanish Franciscan missionary Father Junípero Serra established the site of the first permanent European settlement — in what is today the State of California–  the mission and presidio (fort) atop Presidio Hill.

Old Presidio Historic Trail

1800s

An ideal base for visiting old San Diego is the Cosmopolitan Hotel, an 1800s hotel, located in the Old Town area of the city. My room had a pull handle toilet and no TV, keeping with the step-back-in-time theme. The Cosmopolitan, a boutique hotel with old world charm and an outdoor garden terrace restaurant, was originally Casa de Bandini, the mansion of the Juan Bandini family.

The Cosmopolitan Hotel

The Cosmopolitan Hotel

The Cosmopolitan Hotel

The Cosmopolitan Hotel

A full day of exploration in the recreated, restored Old Town San Diego village included visits to the Wells Fargo History Museum, the first San Diego Courthouse, La Casa de Estudillo, Rust General Store, The McCoy House and the Casa del Rey Moro African Museum.

At the Fiesta de Reyes Plaza, lunch at the stand was $7 for 2 tacos, enjoyed while taking in the mariachi trio on stage who delighted the crowd and in particular, one anniversary couple who got up to dance to Como Pasan Los Años. Other songs included Mexican favorites as well as favorites of a decidedly non-Mariachi origin including Hotel California, but fitting I suppose given the location.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Nearby, I also toured The Whaley House Museum, San Diego’s first two-story brick structure, built in 1856-57, with a haunted reputation. I also enjoyed The Sheriff’s Museum with its 1850s jail and modern day video about 20th century criminal activities.

The day ended with dinner at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and an evening at the old-timey Cygnet Theater taking in a live performance, Broadway style of Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy at the off-off-off-off Broadway price of $45. (Still humming lyrics to this day “Funny, you’re a man who goes traveling….small world, isn’t it?)

Old Town San Diego, considered the birthplace of California, and overseen by  California State Parks, also offers “Living History” demonstrations of activities that took place in the 1800s like quilting and blacksmithing.

1900s

Balboa Park, once the home of the 1915-16 Panama California Exposition, now is a 1100 acre complex of museums, theaters, gardens and the Zoo. The Botanical Garden, Natural History Museum with its Whales 3D movie showing in the giant-screentheater and lunch at The Prado outdoor patio took a good part of the day.

Balboa Park Botanical Building

Balboa Park Botanical Building

A modern-day store, with a 1940s vintage wear sensibility is Tatyana, with evening wear perfect for a swing dance outing.  Located in the Gaslamp Quarter, this area is also home to modern trendy restaurants such as Grant Grill located in the 1910 US GRANT Hotel.

Tatyana

Gaslamp Quarter

2000s

No foodie San Diego visit would be complete without dinner at Juniper & Ivy, an award-winning new restaurant, opened in2014 in the Little Italy section of San Diego. Menu highlights for me: BBQ carrots with Jalapeño Chimicurri and their famous Bajayellowtail.

Other dining stand-outs included fresh catch of the day Baja California halibut at the waterside Fish Market restaurant and brunch at the Searsucker.

The Cosmopolitan in Old Town is conveniently located for last day return trip  to the Airport. My  step back in time vacation was capped by a 10 minute Uber ride to make the flight while wishing a stage-coach had been available.

By Lisa Skriloff


Planning Your Perfect French Cultural Vacation in Québec City

A French cultural vacation awaits you in Québec City every day of the year, but even more so on the first weekend in August when The New France Festival (Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France) is held, now in its 20th year. Multicultural Travel News was in Québec City this past August for the Festival, an annual outdoor 5-day celebration, perhaps best described  as « Colonial Williamsburg meets The Renaissance Faire,” with a serving of “poutine” –  the French way of eating French fries (gravy and cheese curds instead of ketchup.) Costumez-vous! – Wear a period costume to get in the true spirit of the event or comfortable clothes (costumes are available to rent from Costumier de l’époque – view some selections at http://www.costumierlepoque.com/) and immerse yourself in an educational, musical, fun-filled and delicious experience which evokes the time when, contrary to the popular sentiment of today, we were all furriers back then. Our visit started with a bit of history and ended with hysterical laughter as we first traveled back in time listening to the re-enactor explain his role as the “engagé” (contract worker) and culminating in a corn eating competition with our friend Paul eating 25 ears of corn, which, amazingly, brought him only up to 3rd place. The “engagé,” this hired hand, addressed our group: “Who here is from the 13 colonies?” And so began our foray into the past at this unique encounter with history which took place at the Fortifications of Québec National Historic Site- Artillery Park, part of this designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Favorite food: the biggest and best turkey leg I have ever tasted, a featured delicacy at the BBQ of Yesteryear tent, also serving grilled specialties inspired from the Huron-Wendat, Celtic era and Acadia peoples. Favorite “awwww” moment: a bunny in a basket being passed around amongst 3-year olds at the petting zoo pen. Also, not to be missed at the biggest history fest in North America – old-timey vendor booths, tasting kiosks, major music shows, staged mini performances, stilt-walking acrobats, a fencing workshop, a strongman demonstration, and First Nation’s music and dance.

Scenes from the New France Festival 2016

“Who here is from the 13 Colonies?”

Turkey legs at the barbecue of yesteryear at The New France Festival

Petting zoo at The New France Festival

Over 200,000 visitors partake each year in The New France Festival billed as “showcasing, with humor, the 17th and 18th century period when Québec was a French colony. “

This year’s theme, “Imagine the Americas” was an invitation “to discover the cultural diversity of the New France era and to celebrate the influence of New French explorers, pioneers and adventurers across the Americas.”

Not only the French and the Natives but all inhabitants of the era are recognized and celebrated – Italians, Germans, Basque, Africans, West Indians,  Spaniards, English, Irish and Scots as visitors immerse themselves in life as it was in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Dressed for The New France Festival

Here, the schedule of over 400 shows and re-enactments, invites festival-goers to  come watch traditional dances and meet Huron-Wendat artisans at the great teepee.

“As we prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 2017, it seems more important than ever to support events that help Canadians discover their rich heritage in an entertaining and original way. Thanks to the talent of the artists, artisans and historical performers showcased during the New France Festival, citizens can dive into the heart of what life was like in the time of their ancestors”, said The Honorable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, in a statement.

Read more and stay tuned for next year (Aug 9-13, 2017) at http://nouvellefrance.qc.ca/about/

Canadian history books and museums do not present a white-washed version of the founding of the region: The integral role of the First Nations, or First Peoples of Canada, is recognized and credited, not only at this festival but in museum displays and official websites where reference to the French “discovery” of the region is always presented in quotes.

Beyond the festival, continue your French cultural immersion in food and museum visits to understand the history of the 30 million French speakers across the Continent.

Without a doubt, the ideal hotel as your base of operations for your own explorations is the 125-year old castle, The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel (http://www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec/) located inside the walls of Old Québec, overlooking the St. Lawrence River and adjacent to the Funiculaire du Vieux Québec, the funicular rail car that transports visitors down to the Petit Champlain area and back up.

The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel and Dufferin Terrace boardwalk

View of Chateau Frontenac from Quartier Petit-Champlain

Funicular to Chateau Frontenac from  Quartier Petit-Champlain

Time your stay at the hotel to include a Saturday evening, as we did,  when the International Fireworks show can be viewed from the Dufferin Terrace boardwalk.

Dufferin Terrace boardwalk

A good place to start your visit to Québec City is online at http://www.quebecregion.com/en/quebec-city-and-area/old-quebec/

Upon arrival, visit the Tourist Office, just across the Place d’ Armes square from the hotel, which is also the starting point for the Red Bus Line of the HopOn HopOff city tour on board Autobus Les Tours du Vieux-Québec Inc.

A good starting point, before even boarding the bus, is a visit to the Musée de l’Amérique Francophone, to explore and understand the history of the French presence in America. (https://www.mcq.org/en/informations/maf). An introductory video sets the stage for the visit, which recently included an exhibition  entitled « The Rediscovered Colony” a fascinating look at artifacts found on the Cartier-Roberval archeological site.

Musée de l’Amérique Francophone

A permanent exhibition, “People of Québec…Then and Now” at the Museum of Civilization (https://www.mcq.org/en/exposition?id=26622&intcid=ban|accueil|boites|People_of_QubecThen_and_Now) focuses on the history of the city and “This is Our Story:  First Nations and Inuit* in the 21st Century”  features the history and culture of the eleven Aboriginal nations of Québec, a population of about 90,000. (https://www.mcq.org/en/exposition?id=26532&intcid=ban|accueil|carousel|This_is_Our_Story|enexpositionid26532) This museum is stop number 3 on the Red Line.

I also enjoyed the St. Louis Forts-and-Châteaux National Historic Site museum/archaelogic dig  « under the boardwalk » where you’ll find (not love, per the Drifters’ song of the 60’s) but a guided tour of the ruins of what was once the official residence and seat of power of the French and British governors for more than 200 years. (http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/qc/saintlouisforts/index.aspx) This boardwalk is the Terrasse Dufferin, about 5 city blocks long, perfect for a stroll atop the  cliff almost 200 feet above the St Lawrence River.

Video exhibit inside the St. Louis Forts-and-Châteaux National Historic Site museum

Musée Huron-Wendat,  a museum accessible by a free shuttle bus from the traffic circle outside of the tourist office and directly in front of the Chateau Frontenac, is dedicated to promoting the heritage of the Wendat people with a  mandate to teach and popularize the history, culture and art of the Wendat people and of other First Nations. (http://tourismewendake.ca/en/activities/huron-wendat-museum/)

An exceptional collection of Inuit art is on display at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, (https://www.mnbaq.org/en) which this past summer inaugurated the Pierre Lassonde Pavillon on Grande Allée St. Installations, contemporary Québec art, and the monumental fresco by Jean-Paul Riopelle “Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg – thirty paintings forming a triptych almost 130 feet long,  are highlights. A perfect visit would culminate, as ours did, at the Museums’ MC Lepage gastronomic restaurant of Star Chef Marie Chantal Lepage for an unforgettable meal.  This museum is stop number 10 on the Red Line.

Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec

A short walk from the museum is Avenue Cartier, with unique shops and its own artistry, in the Montcalm district. From there, instead of the bus, continue by foot along Grande Allée Street to enjoy an outdoor drink at one of the many sidewalk cafes. The Hôtel Château Laurier Québec, at the intersection of Grande Allée Street and Place George-V Ouest is another great option as a base for your Québec City visit. (https://www.hotelchateaulaurier.com/en/)

A walkable city, if you don’t mind hills that rival San Francisco, Québec  has many other neighborhoods worth exploring. I do mind hills actually so I used the HopOn HopOff map to figure out what stops would save the most climbing. That’s how I came to HopOff at the lively shopping district of Nuovo Saint Roche. This neighborhood is stop number 2 on the Red Line. Wouldn’t you know that these NYC East Village-style shops wouldn’t open until noon so I only got to window shop at a cute store named “Si Les Objets Pouvalent Parler.”

Back on the bus for transport to Rue du Petit Champlain, an historic area that I visited several times during my days in the city. Quartier Petit-Champlain, North America’s oldest commercial district, is chock full of restaurants and boutiques housed in 17th– and 18th-century buildings. Here there are also several more museums worth a visit for those seeking more history.

The funicular up to the Chateau was definitely preferable to the hilly staircase climb, which is what I took one day, following my lunch at Cochon Dinque, a cute restaurant ideal for people watching. Another time it was Hop back on the bus for the rest of the circular visit ending back at the Chateau.

Cochon Dinque

Thus you can easily visit the Upper Town and Lower Town of Québec City, North America’s oldest walled city.

Our  HopOn HopOff package included  the red, green, and blue lines for two consecutive days which gave me time for some further afield visits. I took the 2 pm departure for a short ride out of the city to the Montmorency waterfall.

  

Montmorency Falls

Twenty minutes later we were dropped off at the base of the Falls, where you can witness the impressive natural phenomenon that is higher than Niagara Falls. Before our tour bus’s 4 pm return, I had time to ride the cable car up to the top of the Falls, walk across the suspension bridge to gaze down at the majesty and then cable car back down. A zipline view is also available, no thank you.

Another mini excursion can be had aboard the Québec City-Lévis Ferry — a commuter ferry for cars, bikes and walk-ons — for a quick visit to Levis Island. From the ferry port you can climb the stairs for a walk around this island’s historic district or simply ride the next departure back to Québec City for the spectacular view from the boat, reminiscent of tourists riding New York City’s Staten Island Ferry for a view of the Statue of Liberty. (https://www.traversiers.com/en/home/)

View from aboard the Québec City-Lévis Ferry

I also enjoyed a tour of the small museum of artifacts donated by the Sisters who lived in in Le Monastère des Augustines a restored 17th century monastery, now a hotel, still dedicated to healing. (http://monastere.ca/en)

I’ve described a busy non-stop see everything visit to Québec, yet I could be tempted back to to Le Monastère des Augustines to partake of their special sleep package. Of most appeal is the package called Sleep regeneration and wellness designed to promote sleep and cellular regeneration.

Sleep better to live better is the theme of this package and includes a 3, 5, or 7-night stay designed with this philosophy: “Insomnia, short nights and frequent waking drain our energies and limit our cells’ metabolic activity. As a result, our overall health is affected by lack of sleep.”

Highlights of the package include:

  • Accommodation in a restored original cloister (choice of authentic or contemporary room)
  • 3 healthy meals per day – vitality breakfast in silence
  • Holistic health consultation and evaluation
  • Massage, reflexology, breathing, relaxation treatments
  • Daily activities: meditation, yoga, Pilates, dance, Qi Gong
  • Access to the museum and the heritage site

If a vacation to Québec City could be assigned keywords, tag this one Food, Culture, Art, History, Fun.

For more information visit http://www.quebecregion.com/en/

By Lisa Skriloff, Editor, Multicultural Travel News

All photos by Lisa Skriloff


Two Weeks in Sicily: A How-To Guide for Do-It-Yourselfers for Crowdsourcing the Ideal Itinerary
Two Weeks in Sicily: A How-To Guide for Do-It-Yourselfers for Crowdsourcing the
Ideal Itinerary
or
How I Found the Swing Dance Community in Sicily

The Assignment – Plan a 2-week vacation in Sicily around my birthday date in June.

Our Priorities – Spend the vacation money on food, wine and sightseeing; save on air travel and hotels. No rental car – public transportation only between cities. Sleep late whenever possible. Include vacation days from the vacation. Find places to go swing dancing anywhere in Sicily.

About us/Interests– A foodie couple who likes to dance, we seek out rooftop views and seaside dining. We like to walk and use our steps tracker to rack up the miles daily.

Crowdsourcing – use Facebook and Linkedin to get advice from friends and connections; Google and TripAdvisor for advice from the rest of the world.

Getting Started – Airfare first

Our dates were flexible around the end of May through mid-June so we sought out the best fare by any date and also our non-stop preference. Found the best rate (traveling from NYC’s JFK Airport) on Meridiana Airlines, non-stop round trip to Palermo (PMO) leaving Memorial Day (Monday, May 30), with a return on Monday June 13. Rate was $786 using Expedia to book. We considered a return from Catania but that airfare was $150 more and would have included a stop. Meridiana, (Air Italy is owned 100% by Meridiana) turned out to be a gem – a low-cost option I plan to use again for travel elsewhere in Europe, through Palermo. (Their flights from JFK are scheduled through October and at the rate of $599 rt!)

Now that we determined our trip would begin and end in Palermo, we filled the itinerary from there.

Birthday dinner next

By googling “best restaurant in Sicily” I picked Duomo Restaurant in Ragusa for my birthday dinner. An email to info@ristoranteduomo.it confirmed our reservation for that date and then the entire trip was planned backwards from there.

Allow me to share the benefit of my 70-80 hours of research planning this trip. Ready for every detail you could possibly need to know? Read on for our logistics-oriented review.

Crowdsourcing the rest

Facebook – Cities to visit :  I searched “#Sicily” for pages and ideas and also posted this query on my page: “Anyone been to ‪#‎Sicily on vacation and have advice for us? hotel recommendations, restaurants, # of days in each city, getting around between cities, visiting ‪#‎Lampedusa? just starting our planning so any info is welcome!” Replies from friends and connections steered us to the cities we ultimately chose, though we couldn’t squeeze in Lampedusa on this trip.

Where to Dance: a Facebook search for “swing dancing” led us to the fb pages for the groups Sicily In SwingSwing Cats Italyand Sicily Swing Society and the website http://www.swingfever.it/eventi/ . Reaching out to the organizers and also members of the groups led us to Manuela from Catania who told us about the upcoming swing dance weekend in Palermo – The Swing Godfathers Swing Dance Festival – on the dates we would be there. We clicked we’re “Going” on Events pagehttps://www.facebook.com/events/1670968536509196/ and six weeks later met Manuela there! A swing band from France was the featured live band, completing our international experience.

TripAdvisor – having used TripAdvisor only a few times in the past, I knew the website only as a place to read the opinions posted by total strangers about a hotel or attraction. I had no idea that cities have destination experts. Reading the posts for Sicily under “Forum,” I found that a “Vagabonda” was replying to all the questions with specific answers and intelligent, helpful, friendly and optimistic advice. Who is this Vagabonda and would he/she reply to my questions? Yes! And I ended up getting the majority of the trip information I needed from exchanges with Vagabonda and also by reading her answers to other posted questions. The replies are posted non-stop day and night and so fast that, briefly, I suspected Vagabonda was an auto-reply robot with artificial intelligence capabilities to read the keywords and respond with pre-programmed replies. Not so! At the very least though, perhaps, Vagabonda is more than one person since she has contributed 87,000 posts. I watched as her posts calmed down many a frantic Sicily travel planner with her results-oriented answers and her courteous “Prego” with each reply. Very helpful resource when you are just getting started with your planning and you don’t know what you don’t know.

Booking the Hotels

Expedia offered a 25% discount on hotels booked through their website because we had used them to book our airfare. The hotels had to be booked in the next 8 days to get the discount so we had our work cut out for us to research cities, decide how many nights in each and select hotels. Then, even though we had booked each hotel via Expedia, I did email each hotel with various questions, whether it was to request early check in at our first hotel since our flight arrived to Palermo at 5:30 am, a request for city information, a question about the nearest airport bus stop, etc.

Palermo- 4 nights at beginning of trip; 2 nights at end

Hotel for arrival in Palermo

Eurostars Centrale Palace, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 327; reservations@eurostarscentralepalace.com

We picked this hotel for our arrival days in Palermo, which taxi drivers knew as Centrale Palace, from the photos on the website showing a restaurant with a rooftop view, and its proximity to Cuattro Canti, in the historic area that we wanted to visit. It also was near the Tourist Office and a stop for the free historic center circular bus, the Navette gratuite. The Expedia price was $125 per night plus taxes and fees. Once I had found this hotel, I also cross referenced it on tour packages websites to find that it was a featured and recommended hotel on their itineraries. The tour companies I looked into included high end Tauck Tours, Europe travel expert Rick Steves and Sicily tour experts.

Transportation PMO Airport to Palermo Hotel – Airport shuttle Bus line called Prestia e Comandè www.prestiaecomande.it

Exiting the airport from the Arrivals area, turn right and walk a short distance to find the shuttle bus stop. A posted sign indicated the bus schedule which was every 30 minutes. The ticket window wasn’t open at 6 am, and contrary to what we had been told, the bus driver did not accept credit cards for the 6.30 euro trip. Back into the airport it was to get euros, which we had been planning to do later in the day in Palermo. Our bank cards were, inexplicably, not accepted in the cash machine (though we had notified our banks in advance of our international travel) so we secured euros at the money exchange counter. Later we were able to withdraw euros when we chose only from among the amounts offered on the ATM screen.

The airport bus makes 9 stops in Palermo, but our arrival hotel had advised us to ride to the last stop, the Central Bus and Train Station at Piazza Giulio Cesare (Staz. Centrale). They also suggested that we ask the driver to drop us at the corner of Via Roma and Via Vittorio Emanuelle, and since we were the only ones on the bus at that point he dropped us there.

No, we do not speak Italian. But having researched key Italian phrases and their pronunciation using http://www.fodors.com/language/italian, with its 150 phrases with audio clips, plus trying to get by using Spanish with an Italian accent, we were able to make ourselves understood much of the time. 

Sightseeing Palermo

Here are the highlights of what we enjoyed in Palermo during our 4 days at the beginning of the trip and 2 at the end:

Street Markets – Ballaro Market, Mercato Capo, Vucciria market and the flea market, Mercato delle Pulci

Cappuchin Monks catacomb visit Catacombe dei Capuccini  http://www.catacombepalermo.it/

 International Puppet Museum – Pasqualino  Piazzetta Antonio-Pasqualino 5 I – (Il Museo internazionale delle marionette) 5 euro entry

Palermo, International Puppet Museum

The Four Corners (Quattro Canti)

The Cathedral (SS. Maria Assunta)- Corso Vittorio Emanuele

Teatro Massimo Opera House – piazza G. Verdi visiteguidate@teatromassimo.it – Guided tours at 8 euros per person, lasting about 30 minutes, are offered on a rotating schedule of English and Italian, German, French and Spanish.

Restaurants in Palermo

Lunches and/or Dinners at:

Trattoria del Pesce Fresco, Foro Italico Umberto I, 3,- The last stop on the Navette gratuite, before its return on its circular line, left us at Porta Felice and that is where we found this outdoor restaurant for a delicious grilled swordfish drizzled with balsamic vinegar for me and gnocchi pesto for him. We ordered a liter of wine with lunch. Now we know – a liter of wine is more than a bottle. And always a good value. In fact, at another restaurant, wine was offered on the menu at either 3 euros per glass or 5 euros for a liter. Our choice for the rest of the trip.

Grilled swordfish drizzed with Balsamic Vinegar at Trattoria del Pesce Fresco

Perciasacchi Via del Monte Di Pieta’, 5 (Capo District) http://www.perciasacchi.it/en/ Via del Monte Di Pieta’, 5, info@perciasacchi.it. Very pleased with this restaurant which we had learned about from The New York Times article, 36 Hours in Palermo at  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/18/travel/what-to-do-in-36-hours-in-palermo-sicily.html?_r=0. The restaurant was in walking distance from our Eurostars Centrale Palace hotel. Hooray for individual pizzas!

Buatta, Corso Vittorio Emanuelle, 176, buattapalermo.it. The crowd gathered outside waiting for a free table was telling – this is a well known tourist place. But not many American tourists – I heard French, Spanish and Italian spoken. Later on in Catania, we saw that Buatta was a chain. We started with the tasting platter of appetizers including the crunchy sardines. I selected the Pasta Norma, a classic Sicilian dish with eggplant and ricotta cheese, the first of many times I ordered this on this trip. Service was s-l-o-w, the first of many times we experienced that on this trip.

Antica Focacceria San Francesco 58 Via Alessandro Paternostro. THE place to come for focaccia but the pizza also looked divine, and so was my Pasta Norma. Be sure to get the lemon granita – a kind of slushy sorbet that comes in a bowl!

Antica Focacceria San Francesco

Pasta Norma at Antica Focacceria San Francesco

Osteria Lo Bianco, Via Emerico Amari, 104, Neighborhood: Politeama. Down the block from our departure hotel, Hotel Garibaldi, we had our last night dinner here. I’m a big fan now of spaghetti with bread crumbs. Sounds like something you would feed a 5-year old! (There were a few of those there that night.) Also had our last night dessert of a cannolo (that’s how you order just one.)

Bellotero Ristorante, Via Giorgio Castriota, 3Neighborhood: Politeama. The most non touristy restaurant of our trip. Not only were we the only non-Italians, the diners seemed to be like guests in a home. It didn’t look like they were ordering off the menu. Their food just started coming. The restaurant had an Upper-East-Side-NY clubby feel. We were treated to a post dinner moscato on the house.

Alla 59 Restaurant, Via Cavour- This restaurant, across the street from the Teatro Massimo, was the perfect spot for a late lunch while waiting for our English tour of the Opera House to begin. Consistently off sync with the Sicilian restaurant lunch and dinner meal hours throughout our entire 2 week trip, we constantly had to seek out tourist restaurants that remained open during off hours. Here we found lunch at 4 pm, while waiting for our 530 pm English language guided tour to begin. The menu offered a dozen different pizzas – easy to find one with ingredients you want.

Cocktails and “happy hour appetizers”:

Rooftop cocktails with a view at La Rinascente department store penthouse floor, Via Roma 289 Our 8 euro drinks (a Negroni and an Old Fashioned) came with an appetizer spread of meats, cheeses, olives, mini sandwich bites and more

Kursaal Kalhesa, 21 Foro Umberto I,  Neighborhood: Tribunali  http://www.kursaalkalhesa.com/ Nice quiet spot for pre dinner drinks in the outdoor garden. Next time we will have dinner. No dancing on the night we were there since it was pre-season early June. Will return on a Saturday on our next trip.

Kursaal Kalhesa restaurant, Palermo

Late Breakfast :

Antico Caffe Spinnato Via Principe di Belmonte 107-15Palermo http://www.spinnato.it/ Neighborhood: Politeama. This historic café was still serving café latte and coronets (croissants) when we sought out our first repast way past breakfast time. At least we didn’t hear the waiters whisper amongst themselves like at other cafes (“They want colazione, at this hour!”). Walking distance from our Hotel Garibaldi.

 

Half – Day Trips from Palermo

Cefalù – one hour train ride from Central Station, schedule available at http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en , 5.60 euros each way. When we looked at the website the night before to select a departure time, we didn’t see any of the morning departures we had previously considered. Where was the 10 am, and noon departure? The only departure available was at 13:06. We went down to ask the front desk to help us look at the website and that is when we were informed that the next day was a holiday, June 2, Day of the Republic and a holiday schedule would be in effect. We were advised not to book our tickets online but to just go to the train station the next day to get our tickets. We arrived early enough in case there was a noon departure. There wasn’t but a good surprise was a rousing 4th of July style concert by the train employee band – The William Tell Overture was one I recognized. The first of many “bad to good” surprises this trip. Arrival at Cefalù shortly after 2 pm gave us just enough time to make our way to The Cathedral (Il Duomo), lunch at Al Porticciolo by 3 pm (fresh fish and a seaside table), a walk along the beach via Luongomare and 630 pm train return.

Cefalù cathedral

Mondello – city bus #806 leaves from Piazza Sturzo Square in the Politeama Neighborhood. Another day we did a late pm mini excursion to this beach area of Palermo. A 20 minute bus ride, a walk along the beach. Tried to go to bye bye blues, info@byebyeblues.it but it was closed so return bus less than 2 hours later.

Mondello  beach

We considered but ruled out a visit to Mafia museum in Corleone because there was only one bus, at 8.15 am. (info@cidmacorleone.it) and that was too early for us.

 

Travel Palermo to Catania

Both bus and train were our options and we chose the 2 hr 50 min train at 13.50 euros for comfort.  We bought the tickets at the station two days before departure, because we happened to be there on our return from Cefalù. http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en

 

Catania – 3 nights

Hotel Royal Catania Via A. Di Sangiuliano 337, info@hotelroyalcatania.it , http://win.hotelroyalcatania.it/eng/. The Expedia price was $111 per night plus taxes and fees. We were glad we were assigned room 305, with its private roof garden with a 360 degree view of Mt. Etna and the port, complete with sun lounge chairs and a small table and two chairs for our evening wine (purchased around the corner at a small store, MUSEO CROCIFERI – Art and Chocolate Via Crociferi 21). A hot tub on the roof garden was not yet in operation for the summer. (Note to self: email a hotel in advance and ask “Will the rooftop hot tub I see featured prominently on your website be in operation on the dates we will be at your hotel?) We took a taxi, immediately available at the taxi stand at the train station, to the hotel, a 15 minute ride for about 10 euros.

A roof top. A bottle of Sicilian wine (We discovered, enjoyed and then repeatedly chose the Nero d’avola). An evening nightcap tradition we started in Catania and continued at our next 2 hotels.

Sightseeing in Catania

WWII Museum (Museo Storico dello Sbarco in Sicilia 1943 (closed Mondays)  4 euros

Cinema Museum Museo Del Cinema  4 euros

Outdoor Fish Market – La Pescheria – Mercato del Pesce

Walk along Via Etnea shopping street

Villa Bellini, Catania’s public gardens

Teatro Greco Romano

Castello Ursino gallery exhibit

Restaurants in Catania

Lunches and/or Dinners at:

Sicilia in Bocca, just down from the outdoor fish market, enjoyed the whole fish, presented and deboned.

Ristorante La Paglia Antica Trattoria. Actually located within the outdoor fish market, so close to the vendors I wished I had worn my rubber boots as well! Had the fresh sardines appetizer

Cocktails and “happy hour appetizers”

Rooftop cocktails with a view:

Etnea Roof Bar & Restaurant in the UNA Hotel Palace, Via Etnea 218 – what better way to view Mt. Etna, than with a pair of bellini cocktails? If you feel like a bite, I would suggest the meat and cheese platter over the cheese toasts we ordered. That sounded like it would be a bruschetta but it was a cheese sandwich.

Bellini cocktails, view of Mt. Etna, Etnea Roof Bar, UNA Hotel Palace, Catania

Day Trip from Catania to Taormina

We took the Interbus line bus from Catania to Taormina, schedule at  http://www.interbus.it/Home.aspx (4.9 euros) and made the return by train. (4.3 euros)

We used this website http://shipsofmessina.altervista.org/Scali_2016.pdf  to view the cruise ship schedule and chose a day when no cruise ships would be calling at the time we were there.

Did I already mention we liked to walk? Our daily steps goal, established by our individual fitbits is 10,000. On Taormina day we reached 23,000! That’s ten miles. Starting with the 20 minute walk to the bus station from the Royal Hotel.

Sightseeing in Taormina

We used this website http://www.hotelvillaschuler.com/events/events-2016/ to learn about gallery shows and events around Taormina on the day we visited. Saw the wonderful Sicilian cart exhibit at the Palazzo dei Congressi Exhibit Hall and met the curator who had collected them all.

Visit to the Greek Theatre, 10 euros, or free if it is your birthday

Walk Corso Umberto to Piazza IX Aprile

Lunch at Ristorante La Cisterna del Moro . LaCisternadelMoro@gmail.com.  View of the sea from the outdoor (covered) dining area. Spaghetti carbonara!

Public gardens

Cable car down to the beach, 3 euros

Taormina, cable cars down to the beach

Taormina, view of beach from cable car

Then taxi to the train station for the return to Catania. The train station at Taormina/Giardini Naxos which apparently was a filming location for The Godfather.

Travel Catania to Ragusa

Catania to Ragusa by bus – hourly departures, direct, 1 h 55 min, 7.90 eur 

Interbus service – http://www.interbus.it/

Buses arrive in Modern Ragusa (Ragusa Superiore) and from there took a taxi to the old section, Ragusa Ibla to our hotel.

Ragusa – 2 nights

HOTEL DELL’OROLOGIO, Via Ioppolo 12, info@hoteldellorologio.com. This hotel had the biggest room of our stay, with a queen bed and also 2 twin beds in our room and a big walk-in shower. What we didn’t know was that the hotel was up a steep hill on a pedestrian street so our taxi driver could not drop us off in front of the hotel, only at the bottom of the hill. Luckily, I was able to enlist Claudia at the front desk to help us carry our suitcases up to the hotel and to our room. This hotel offered a rooftop seating area which turned out to be ours alone each evening for our nightcap. Bottle of wine in Ragusa purchased at the store within Gelati di Vini. The hotel room was equipped with a bottle opener and glasses! View of the hills with lights glittering from the homes. And a starry night.

Ragusa dining

Cucina e Vino Trattoria, cucinaevino.eu. This restaurant was recommended by a friend of a friend found on facebook who said it was her family’s favorite eatery of their entire Sicily trip. A cute corner outdoor restaurant on a lovely night was indeed a favorite of ours.

Al Borgo restaurant had the advantage of being the only restaurant open at our odd arrival time of 3 pm. Salads, pizzas, focaccia fit the bill for a fast lunch.

Gelati di Vini, Piazza Duomo 20 http://www.gelatidivini.it/, Recommended by another friend as their favorite place in Sicily for gelato. Had the Cioccolato al Peperoncino flavor (Chile infused chocolate) here and also picked up a bottle of wine for our rooftop evening.

Gelati di Vini, Piazza Duomo, Ragusa, gelato Cioccolato al Peperoncino flavor (Chile infused chocolate)

Birthday dinner at Ristorante Duomo, Via Capitano Bocchieri, 31, -our multi-course dinner with the wine pairings was a fitting meal for this destination restaurant. We chose the chef’s surprise option, which changes daily, depending on his whim. 

Ristorante Duomo, Ragusa

Ragusa sightseeing

A half day of wandering around was enough time to see the Duomo Cathedral, Museo di San Giorgio and enjoy the Giardini Iblei Gardens.

Duomo, Ragusa

 

Half-Day Trip from Ragusa to Modica: The chocolate capital of Sicily

By Bus http://www.aziendasicilianatrasporti.it/ 4.2 euros round trip.

Trenino Barocco – A trenino, as they call it, a little tourist sightseeing train excursion, with departures from outside the Tourist Office, makes a 45-minute tour from Corso Umberto to Modica Alta. An open air train on wheels takes you up the steep steep hill to Upper Modica and back, or can leave you at Belvedere (the highest panoramic point in Modica) for the walk down. Teninobarocco.it, 5 euros

Then a visit to the Chocolate Museum

Italy, with Sicily, made out of Chocolate, Modica Chocolate Museum

Modica dining: Lunch at A putia ro vinu, Aputiarovinu.com, 15 euro lunch deal

Chocolates purchased at Motycafe and Antica Dolceria Bonajuto

Travel Ragusa to Siracusa/Ortigia

Interbus from Ragusa to Siracusa non stop or  with one bus change, 7.2 euros

http://www.interbus.it/  A windy, steep road plus a Kamikaze driver intent on passing every truck, even 2 or 3 trucks at a time, even on blind curves, made for a very queasy ride.

Ortigia – 2 nights

Hotel Gutkowski Lungomare di Levante Elio Vittorini, 26, info@guthotel.itwww.guthotel.it.

The only hotel not booked through Expedia but directly by email. Rate 226 euros for 2 nights.

(Note to self: email a hotel in advance and ask “Will the rooftop 5 pm complimentary granita for guests, that I see featured prominently on your website be offered on the dates we will be at your hotel?). This hotel had a second floor outdoor rooftop seating area with a view of the sea where  each evening we had our nightcap, as well – Vodka tonics purchased at the hotel bar and brought up to the roof!

 

Siracusa/Ortigia Sightseeing

Jewish  Mikva, Guided tours, on the hour from 9 am to 7 pm,  start at The Residenza Alla Giudecca, Via Alagona 52, where they were discovered during renovations of the hotel. www.allagiudecca.it/en/jewish-bath.html;  allagiudecca@hotmail.com;

Jewish Mikva tour, The Residenza Alla Giudecca, Ortygia

Boat tour around the island and out to the caves- There are boats all along the two bridges as you enter and depart Ortigia. We took the one found on Ponte Nuovo

Boat tour around Ortygia

Papyrus Museum, Museo del Papiro, 5 euro entry

 

Restaurants:

Ristorante Dioniso, via Claudio Maria Arezzo 29- friendly owner/host, fabulous meal. We were impressed by the couple dining next to us. From Chicago, they told us. They had appetizers, salad, a full size pasta course, steak  and dessert.

Lemon Granita at Voglia Matta,  Via Umberto – considered the best in the city

Punto G – Dinner with live music, puntogsiracusa.it, via Saverio Landolina, 1. I became suspicious of the mixed grill platter after I was made aware that elsewhere horsemeat was also on the menu

 

 

 Travel Siracusa to Palermo

Syracuse to Palermo  – took the  Interbus line,  http://www.interbus.it/ 12 euros, It’s a 3 H 25” trip so happily a rest stop is scheduled. On Saturdays there were only two options, 8 am and 2 pm.

Palermo – 2 nights

Hotel Garibaldi – GHS Hotels via Emerico Amari, 146, garibaldi@ghshotels.itwww.ghshotels.ithttp://www.hotelgaribaldipalermo.it/

After our two week tour of Sicily we returned to Palermo for our last two nights of the vacation before our return flight and, indeed, the stop for the Airport shuttle bus was located across the Square from this hotel, in the Politeama district. The Expedia price was $97 per night plus taxes and fees. Out the door at 5 am for the 5:15 airport bus, departing from the Square just steps from the hotel.

The food was the standout for us on this 2-week Sicily trip. Pasta twice in one day, even! Apparently not an opinion shared by a fellow passenger on the return flight to New York. Heard upon deplaning “Finally, home to get some good Pizza.” And then a final pleasant surprise from the Customs agent looking at my passport upon re-entry into the U.S. His question: “Was this a birthday trip?”

Miscellaneous Tips

Bone up on the metric system: many a directions were provided to us as “The hotel is 1000 meters down this road.” Is that close or far when wheeling luggage?

How to cross the street – A red traffic light does not necessarily mean the cars will stop.  Even when crossing in the pedestrian crosswalk, try this procedure: Make eye contact with the driver. Indicate with your body language if you are going. Hope for the best. Or wait for a local to cross and follow close behind them.

Opening hours– The Museum of Cinema in Ortygia/Siracusa was never open during our 3 days in town, and we kept stopping by. Inquiring about it at the reception desk at the Inn down the street, they could not tell us when it would be open. Basically, like other things in Sicily: “It will be open when you see that it is open.”

Bus and train schedule websites – “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet” applies to schedules posted on the bus and train websites. The websites in Italian are more reliable than the schedules you see when clicking English. At the bus depot, the best way to know if the bus is going to your destination, no matter what the sign on the bus reads, is to ask the driver, \ “Modica?”. Same for the schedule. “Ragusa?” we asked the bus driver. 5: 15 he said. Sad news to us waiting since 3:30 (the time posted on the sign at the Modica bus station) and a different time than the 4 pm we had been told when we bought our tickets at the Ragusa bar/ticket and also different from the 4:20 time on the website.

By Lisa Skriloff

Diversifying The Visitor Base to The Adirondacks: An Interview at The Wild Center with ca4bdcb4-d1fb-40c6-a874-63f11d4b59adMulticultural Travel News

On a recent visit to Upstate New York for The Adirondacks (Outdoors) Challenge, Multicultural Travel News had the opportunity to learn about diversity in the region. Not bio-diversity, though our trip did coincide with Invasive Species Awareness Week. But how attractions have taken steps to diversify their visitor base and why the State of New York considers diversity a priority.

At a press conference with the Governor, during a chat with tourism officials and a visit to the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks’ The Wild Center, it became clear that diversity is important to this non-profit organization and indeed to the State.

In an interview, Gavin Landry, Executive Director of Tourism, New York State at Empire State Development, explained how New York has a history of being at the forefront of important issues. “Support of women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, ‘We had emancipation before Lincoln was born,” he noted. “Not only are we large geographically and rich with tremendous assets,” he noted, “our goal for diversity at the agency (is to) create greater awareness, not only (among) ethnic, but LGBT visitors,” as well.”
(An interview with Ross D. Levi, VP, Marketing Initiatives, including LGBT market outreach, will appear in a later issue of Multicultural Travel News.)

“Make every decision for the 6 to 7 generations to come.” “We need all New Yorkers to care or how else will there be protections for the future.” “This is everyone’s Adirondacks.” Comments we heard consistently throughout the long weekend – any could be slogans reflecting their outlook.

Native American history and heritage is also part of the equation. Adirondack, the word itself, might have been an insult that a Mohawk would have hurled at an Algonquin. You ‘Bark Eater’ would have been the translation, implying they were bad at hunting.

Hillarie Logan-Dechene, Director of Philanthropy at The Wild Center pointed to the Visit Adirondacks website http://visitadirondacks.com/first-time-visitors/faqs. “The word ‘Adirondack’ originated as a derogatory term given to the Algonquin tribe by neighboring Mohawk, meaning “barkeaters.””

Multicultural Travel News asked Hillarie Logan-Dechene to discuss The Wild Center’s diversity initiatives and goals:
Hillarie Logan-Dechene,
Director of Philanthropy, The Wild Center, Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks

Does The Wild Center have a diversity initiative?The Wild Center is part of an effort (the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council) that has identified the need to broaden diversity in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender-identity among the Adirondack region’s residents and visitors.  The Wild Center is committed to the importance of working at diversifying our base.

Why is diversifying your visitor base important?
The Wild Center was created so ALL people and nature can thrive together.  Our mission is to ignite an enduring passion for the Adirondacks, where people and nature can thrive together and set an example for the world.  If, for whatever reason, we only serve a segment of the population, we are not meeting our mission.  In addition, part of the reason The Wild Center exists is to help people develop an appreciation for the Adirondack region, and help maintain it for future generations.  If large segments of our population are not familiar with this place, then they will have no interest in stewarding and preserving what is special about the Adirondacks for those future generations.  It is important that all New Yorkers consider the Adirondacks theirs.

Wild Walk, The Wild Center, Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks
Wild Walk, The Wild Center, Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks

How have the demographics changed? 
We have not had an opportunity to formally study the nuances of our changing demographics, but anecdotally we are witnessing a wonderful broadening of the profile of our visitors since the opening of (our latest attraction) Wild Walk on July 4th.  Our visitation is up 400% this year and we are hearing other languages spoken daily, and seeing more ethnic diversity in our guests.  Today for example, I heard Spanish, Russian, Chinese and French spoken in our exhibit and on Wild Walk.

What can visitors see at The Wild Center and Wild Walk?
Opportunities to see, explore, and learn abound at our 54,000-square-foot Center and on our 81-acre campus. A visitor can explore the exhibit halls, meet one of our many animals, watch our swimming river otters, take a woodland walk down to the river Oxbow, canoe the Raquette with a licensed Adirondack guide, or view one of many amazing films produced by The Wild Center. We also feature Planet Adirondack, an exhibit with a giant floating Earth where you can see the planet come alive. (During the) summer, visitors can experience Wild Walk, a chance to walk over the treetops. Wild Walk features a giant spider web suspended above the forest, and an Eagle’s nest at the highest point of Wild Walk. Wild Walk is a brand new feature where visitors can get a truly elevating perspective of the living wild forest and is accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

What are some initiatives you have undertaken already to attract diverse visitors? What are some projects you would like to undertake?
We are actively marketing to a broader base with the help of I Love New York.  They have helped us by using a cross section of media to reach more New Yorkers than ever before.

  • In terms of our educational mission, we would like to serve more inner-city schools.  As a museum based in a rural area, we would like the experience of being in the Adirondacks to be a shared experiences with New York’s youth no matter where they are from; from Brooklyn to Buffalo.
  • We are looking at making our education programs available on distance learning.
  • We hope to work more with partner organizations to convene around issues that are important to our communities.

How is the Wild Center looking to incorporate the “Native American narrative?”
The traditional historical narrative of the Adirondacks had overlooked the history of the native people.  Until very recently, they had been considered just seasonal visitors to the region and not a significant part of the story of the settlement of the region.  To me and many other people, this was a great oversight as there has always been both physical and historical evidence of native people in the region well before white settlement.  The Wild Center, from its opening day has involved the Aquasansne Mohawk in its significant celebrations including its opening day and most recently in the celebration of Wild Walk’s opening.  The Wild Center is interested in exploring a way to give a voice to the native interpretation of our nature exhibits.

A recent New York Times article with the headline, Why are our Parks so White ?, called on Parks to diversify.  How does that dovetail with your mission and goals?
The article in the Times hit home.  The resident population of the Adirondacks is rather monochromatic, but it is a complex story of a mostly rural poor resident popular that is shrinking.  As more and more people move to live in urban and suburban places, small Adirondack towns are losing population base and so the opportunities for a more diverse workforce are more challenging.  However, leaders in the Adirondack have been consciously working on reversing the declining populations for about 7 years (Adirondack Common Ground Alliance) and we have been trying to get infrastructure such as broadband and cell service so people can work remotely in our rural communities. This is making telecommuting more practical and we are starting to see opportunities grow for people who want to live here.  This will, in turn, allow a more diverse work pool to be employed in the region and then when more diverse visitors come to feel more a part of our ecosystem. In terms of The Wild Center’s mission, we want “people and nature to thrive together” and that means having healthy, sustainable well-balanced communities.  Part of this is making sure our communities embrace diversity in our people just as we embrace diversity in nature.

The Wild Center
The Wild Center

What are the initiatives/projects you are seeking funding for?
We are seeking funds to attract new more diverse audiences, such as Chinese tourists, diverse millennials from New York and Canada, and also to expand our programing to a broader audience.  For example we have a Youth Climate Program, that has been very successful in the North Country and we would like to offer the program to more high school and college students around the state and around the country. On our wish list, we would like to have webpages that offer both our basic information as well as some key content pages in different languages. We currently have a page in Mandarin information page, and would like to expand the efforts to include pages in Spanish, French, German and Japanese.  In addition to a web presence, we would like to have some on-site translation of our exhibit content available as well. (During a recent)  I Love NY’s first Tourism Sales Mission to China in March… I was delighted to learn that the Mandarin word for beautiful scenery is a combination of the symbols for mountain and water – in the Adirondacks we have both!

Should a corporation of agency wish to help support The Wild Center’s efforts to service a more diverse audience, they can contact  Hillarie Logan-Dechene, Director of Philanthropy, The Wild Center, Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, Tupper Lake, NY  hlogan-dechene@wildcenter.org, 518-359-7800, ext. 103 www.wildcenter.org

By Lisa Skriloff


Cartagena, Colombia

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Cartagena, Colombia, By Lisa Skriloff

(original full length article)

Wipe that outdated reputation from your mind. My recent vacation to Cartagena, Colombia introduced me to the beauty of this UNESCO declared World Heritage City and moves it to the top of my list of recommended destinations.

The country’s famous export? Think coffee. Safety concerns? Why, Disney Cruise Line “calls” there now. What surer hallmark of safety “stamp of approval” than Disney bringing its guests to this city? Cartagena is another in the line of cities transformed from “terrorism to tourism” as the then president Uribe declared in 2002.

My pre-Colombian vacation knowledge was limited to ceviche, arepas and salsa.

Now I know about champeta (a kind of reggaeton music and dance,) lulo (a fruit) and Getsemaní (neighborhood of Cartagena.)

First the food. Coconut as an ingredient seems to be the chef’s darling and a welcome flavor it is, in rice, drinks and pie.  I had been advised to be on the lookout for “Limonada de coco,” a drink that looks like a piña colada and tastes like a coconut lemonade. Once I tried it, a second one was on the way.

Other new fruit to try included “lulo” (a little orange with a lemony pineapple flavor) and, available every morning on the breakfast buffet, a “tomate de arbol” which gives the sensation in your mouth of eating a tomato but tastes like a citrusy apricot.

The coconut pie was my immediate favorite on the first night, at dinner at Restaurante Club de Pesca in the Manga area of the city. The restaurant is located in the ruins of Fort San Sebastian del Pastelillo, and tables overlook the Cartagena bay. From some tables you glimpse the water looking through the fortress wall cut outs where the cannons once were positioned.  ¡Muy romántico!

If you like dining and drinking in restored ruins, also pay a visit to Casa de la Cerveza, located on top of the city wall, at the end of Calle Arsenal with views across the water toward Castillo de San Felipe fortress.

This part of town, Getsemaní, is the rehabilitated section, the Times Square of Cartagena, if you will, once seedy, now social, or perhaps better compared to Chueca in Madrid, a revitalized hipster zone.

Another night we ate at Cánde, specializing in “100% Cartagenera cuisine”. A ceviche starter, the coconut rice, the beef stew with flavor of brown sugar were accompanied by a short “typical dance show” performance. The owners, apparently, are fans of the live dance show as they also offer one at their other restaurant, El Burlador de Sevilla. There, a flamenco dancer and guitarists give 30 minute shows throughout the evening. At this Spanish restaurant we enjoyed a kind of nouveau paella, tapas and, of course, their sangría. The performer (loved her flamenco dance to “My Way”) gave a shout out to a celebrity diner in the audience, Señorita Bolivar (a local version of “Miss New York State” : Cartagena is located in the “department” of Bolivar.)

At El Santísimo (“the most holy one”) Bar Restaurant just reading the menu was a delight with dishes with names such as “Melchor, Gaspar y Baltazar”, “Sacrilege” and the main course I selected “San Martín Pescador,” a fresh fish fillet with calamari and shrimp sauce. Desserts, of course, are La Envidia (Envy,) La Pereza (Sloth,) Wrath, Lust, Pride and my favorite, Gluttony, a brownie with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.

Fittingly, El Santísimo, in the historic Old Town, is just a block away from the luxury hotel Sofitel Santa Clara built in a 17thcentury convent. Also in the Old Town, which is surrounded by the city walls, we visited the Zenú Gold Museum, walked across the tiled floor in honor of the Miss Colombias of the past, and toured down the Colonial streets past the Teatro Heredia, Catedral de Cartagena, the Museum of Modern Art and the obligatory stop at Plaza de Santo Domingo to rub the sculpture of Gertrudis, by Fernando Botero. A coffee appreciation lesson at Café San Alberto and an emerald jewelry making class at Fundación Escuela de Joyería del Caribe netted me two suitable-for-framing certificates of attendance.

But my favorite class, the highlight of the entire trip to Cartagena, was my $38 private salsa lesson at Crazy Salsa dance studio in the Old Town, just down the street from the Clock Tower entrance.  During my one hour class, I perfected my entry level salsa dance, learning how to do the turns my instructor Mauricio called the “Setenta” (70) and the “Coca cola”. The “cross body lead” I knew how to do but here in Cartagena he says they call it the “Dile que no.” (Tell him “no.”) Mauricio added in a bit of what their brochure calls “Lady styling” and I learned how to move my hands, like, he said “you are painting a wall.”

After that I was ready for Donde Fidel, a nearby salsa bar with dancing with its collection of salsa legends photos on the wall, and Café Havana, in Getsemaní, where the live salsa band starts at 1130 pm and I got to practice my new salsa moves (thank you Luis!).

Other worthwhile sightseeing stops were at the San Felipe fortress and the La Popa monastery situated at the highest point of Cartagena, with fabulous views of the harbor area (and from where I spotted the Disney cruise ship pointed out by the passengers on their ‘Best of Cartagena’ day excursion.)

We stayed at the Radisson Cartagena Ocean Pavillion Hotel, directly on the beach, with rooms with a view of the Caribbean Sea, about 15 minutes from the Old City, and just north of the airport. (Colombia is the only country in South America with both a Caribbean and Pacific Ocean coastline.) Nearby is another beach resort, Hotel Las Américas Resort, Spa and Convention Center with a notable infinity pool and beach area with attendants.

Less luxurious but rewarding in its own way was our canoe tour of the nearby mangrove swamp. Ecotours Boquilla offers a one hour excursion into the heart of the mangrove forest into tunnels and out again. If the canoes seem tippy, not to worry. As we circled a bend I noticed a local walking by in the water, which must have been less than 2 feet deep.

A day tour by speedboat brought us to Rosario islands for a back to nature swim in the clear water and a grilled fish lunch in the hut. Not too rustic – there was wifi (password Laguna01). That’s about as far back to nature as I go.

A final excursion was offered: La Chiva. The wooden Chiva buses are brightly painted, open-air nighttime party buses with benches for seats, with a live trio band on board, making stops around the city, as liquor flows freely from bottles passed around. To board, you find your footing and climb up a ladder; hence our guide advised us not to wear a skirt for this excursion. Once up there, the party bus host kept the mood high as he encouraged riders to sing, drink, raise their hands, cheer, yell and for the men — row by row – to pull their pants down. At the stop in front of the San Felipe fortress, it was down the ladder and off the bus for 20 minutes to dance and conga line. At the Las Bóvedas one hour stop, the dungeons-turned-shops are closed for the night but there is more dancing and cheese arepas for sale and then it’s back up the ladder onto the bus and onto the final destination, a private disco for the chiva partyers.  If you like a spring-break/bachelorette party, open bar atmosphere amongst a traveling group of 50 tourists from all over South America (“Venezuelans, make some noise,” the MC exhorted), like jokes in Spanish and can easily scamper up and down a bunk bed type ladder, then this will be a fun night for you. If you are older than 35, your knees sometimes hurt and you appreciate “quiet enjoyment”, if your guide suggests the group takes the Chiva tour, then “dile que no.”

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Crazy Salsa private studio

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Old Town Cartagena

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Fortress Cartagena

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Hotel Radisson Cartagena

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View of Old Town from Cartagena Bay

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Ecotours Boquilla

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Ecotours Boquilla canoe trip thru mangroves

By Lisa Skriloff


Trip of Love: A 60s Journey Through Song and Dance – Now playing Off Broadway

tripoflovelogoAre they doing a cha cha? Is it a hustle? It’s a bit of both in a Bossa Nova choreographed to “The Girl from Ipanema” a musical number in Trip of Love, a psychedelic love valentine to the 60s professed in song and dance, which opened Off-Broadway on Sunday. If you, like me, squeal “Oooh, I love that one” when you hear the song “You Don’t Own Me” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “California Dreamin’” you’ll be screaming throughout the entire performance of Trip of Love. (If you hear ‘Trippin’ love you wouldn’t be far off.)

James Walski has created an exciting night of dance-concert-theater for those who, like me, love watching dancing, almost as much as you love to dance. Though apparently classically trained, (Joffrey, American Ballet Theater) he brings his Las Vegas sensibilities to bear in this production, as he hasn’t met a 60s song that couldn’t use a Vegas showgirl or Chippendale abs.  Go-Go dancers, see-thru dresses, Day Glo paint  being applied to a topless woman in ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ (though less naked than the ones you can see if you walk three blocks east  on 42nd St): these are some of the visuals incorporated into the show.

White patent leather boots, 60s hair dos, tie dye, even more eye candy comes your way with the eye popping costumes (500 of them) designed by Tony award winner Gregg Barnes which left me wishing I could somewhere buy the purple and yellow green bathing suit and cover up from the “Wipe Out” number.

This thoroughly enjoyable musical will help you “Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares” as the lyrics to “Downtown” exhort and will be especially popular with international baby boomers who remember the music, even if they don’t speak English. Not a problem in this dialogue- free, plot- free song-and-dance show.  There might have been a plot as tripoflove.com offers that it is “about a young girl’s journey down the rabbit hole and up to an ultimate musical high.”

Besides the non-stop singing and dancing, the cast is called upon to fly in a hot air balloon, sing in Portuguese and ride a scooter, though in the performance I saw there was a mishap when the scooter  slid out from under the rider and off the stage. House lights up and luckily and miraculously no one was hurt. This rendition of ‘It’s Not Unusual” featured an unusual PA announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, a short pause while we get the Vespa from the orchestra pit.” The conductor must have good reflexes as indeed the show commenced within a few minutes.

In addition to the conductor, other notable performers include Laurie Wells, with her Judy Collins / Stockard Channing vibe and Dionne Figgins as Jennifer in ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’.

tripoflove.com
https://www.facebook.com/tripoflovemusical@TripOfLove

By Lisa Skriloff


Solari’s Restaurant- First Tuesdays Big Band Dinner & Dancing 

Ever in search of old school Italian restaurants with live music for a wonderful evening of dinner and dancing, we found it atSolari’s Restaurant in Hackensack, NJ.

The first Tuesday of the month is Big Band night where the “One More Once” Big Band, an 11 piece all male band (girl singers: please get in touch with them!) captivates a loyal following who know their foxtrot, swing and cha cha.

Enjoyed our classic Italian sausage and peppers appetizer and chicken parmigiana as they started the evening out with “Dancing in the Dark” and “I’ll Never Smile Again.”

How to get there from Manhattan? I’ll tell you exactly what to do: Take the 6:03 pm NJ Transit train from NY Penn Station. You’ll need to change trains in Secaucus and I like this departure because it gives you 13 minutes to connect to the 6:25 train to the Essex Street stop, arriving just less than 20 minutes later. At Secaucus, the connection is in another part of the building up an escalator then down another, to find your next train among a choice of A through H platforms.  From the train station, Solari’s Restaurant is 5 minutes away. We like a 7:15 dinner reservation which gives us plenty of time for dinner and a few glasses of wine before the band starts at 8:30. They take a nice long dinner break after their first set which ends at 9:30 so it’s up to you and your schedule for the next day whether you leave then or dance the second set and end your evening after 11 pm.

Your fellow dancers are regulars; some might have enjoyed listening to Frank Sinatra in person at one time, some might be dance teachers, some, I overheard, belonged to a college swing dance club.

There’s no cover charge!  Begin the Beguine at Solari’s Restaurant.  http://solarisrestaurant.net/

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Low Cost Airline Volaris Inaugurates Service from JFK – Continues Focus on the Hispanic Market

Low cost carrier Volaris, serving more destinations in Mexico than any other airline,

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Ivan Martinez-Vega, Deputy Director for Public Relations, North America, Mexico Tourism Board (L) and Miguel Aguiñiga Rodríguez, Senior Manager Mex-US/Sales & Marketing, Volaris (R)

inaugurates service from JFK on July 15th  as it continues to serve its core audience, the Hispanic Market. Miguel Aguiñiga Rodríguez, Senior Manager Mex-US/Sales & Marketing for Volaris,  in an interview with Multicultural Travel News, said that the “visiting family and relatives” market (VFR) is their key market. For that reason, since the airline was launched 9 years ago, he noted, they have been doing research to identify the largest Mexican-American population areas to establish routes to serve the VFR market.  Guadalajara is a principal destination because of the opportunity it presents to this  market as drive time from Guadalajara is only 2 to 6 hours to most key cities such as Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Morelia, among others, destinations that are key for the Mexican ex-patriots living in the US. The airline also targets second and third generation Mexican-Americans to encourage them to visit and learn about their culture and food.The Volaris outreach to the Hispanic population is aligned with the Mexican Tourism board’s campaign with the theme “Mis Raices” targeting the Hispanic Market which will launch this August. The current “Live it to Believe it” campaign highlights the culture and food of Mexico and promotes a “Wine & Tequila Route” and “Mole Route.” The “Thousand Flavors of Mole” route encourages travelers to visit the regions of Mexico City, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca and Puebla where the famous “mole poblano” originates. The tequila route includes the city of Guadalajara, the capital of Mariachi music, itself declared as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Volaris marketing outreach includes alliances  with the various regional  Mexican Federations around the US, as a  key way to reach their main target —  Mexicans in the US with ties to family in Mexico. Knowing that Hispanics overindex in social media usage, Volaris is also focused on utilizing Facebook where they currently have over 1,300,00 likes and Twitter with over a million followers.  And in other milestone news, earlier this month Volaris announced it transported its 50 Millionth customer.

By Lisa Skriloff, Editor, Multicultural Travel News


A Quick. Quick. Slow. Slow. Long Weekend in Nashville

Quick. Quick. Slow. Slow. That’s the counting pattern for the country 2-step dance. And also the pace of our Nashville long weekend this past April.

A 5:45 pm day of arrival dinner reservation was the only time slot available at The Catbird Seat (no relation, I don’t think, to the BlueBird Café,) the Achazt-inspired (you’re a foodie if that means something to you) counter-seating hot restaurant. So we moved quickly from the airport to the hotel and on to the restaurant.

The next morning was Slow Slow as we set no alarm for sightseeing, yet managed a full Hop on Hop Off Trolley route around the city before our 8:30 pm dinner reservation at Husk, the James Beard award-winning restaurant a short cab ride from our base of operations, the Hotel Indigo, in downtown. Then it was off to live music and dancing. This trip we did the two-step at the Wildhorse Saloon, West Coast swing dance at BB King’s and Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie bar and lindy-hop to the music of Bryan Wain & Hush Puppy’s Daddy at the Whisky Bent Saloon on their Sunday swing dance night.

Swing dancing and molecular gastronomy? Yes, Music City had these to offer for our gourmet-food fueled danceathon in Nashville.

Here’s our full itinerary, if you’d like to follow my lead:

Wednesday

12:01 pm American Air from La Guardia to Nashville

Checked in Hotel Indigo

Walked along river from hotel to Riverfront Station

Rooftop drinks at Acme Feed & Seed- live music, view of the river

Catbird Seat Restaurant for dinner

Downstairs for after-dinner drinks at the Patterson House (tried the Bacon Old fashioned!)

Union Station Hotel for lobby drinks – a restored 19th century rail road station with a stained glass ceiling

Live country music – one set at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

Robert’s Western World for country music

One set of the Stacy Mitchhart Band at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie bar in Printer’s Alley

Thursday

Breakfast at 417 Union Street Restaurant – serves breakfast all day!

Hop on Hop off trolley around the city

Stops at Marathon Village for museum visit and Antique Archaeology shop

Green Brier Distillery tour

Johnny Cash Museum

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery for drinks and appetizers

HUSK restaurant for dinner

The Big Bang–a dueling pianos lounge and dance floor

Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie bar

Friday

Breakfast at 417 Union Street Restaurant

Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame

Margot Cafe in East Nashville for dinner

The 5 Spot bar for drinks and live music

Nashville Swing Dance Foundation’s Friday night JUMP SESSION

Wildhorse Saloon for two-step dancing

Saturday

The Southern Restaurant for brunch

Afternoon antiquing at 8th Ave Antique Mall, Pre to Post Modern, Tennessee Antique Mall

The Bridge RLife Bar at Renaissance Hotel

German Town Cafe for dinner

Rolf & Daughters for drinks

Swinging Doors for country music

BB King’s for Blues

Sunday

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel – best peppered bacon ever

Sambuca for dinner and live music

Whisky Bent Saloon for swing dancing

Whisky Bent Saloon Swing Dance night

Minnie Murphy & Crew At Sambuca Nashville

Robert’s Western World

Robert’s Western World

Sambuca restaurant

Brunch at The Southern

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel

Easter Brunch at the Hermitage Hotel

Cocktail menu at Rolf & Daughters

Union Station Hotel lobby ceiling

Drinks Menu at the Patterson House

13 courses at The Catbird Seat

By Lisa Skriloff, editor, Dance Travel News dancetravelnews.com


Ecuador Tourism Ad Campaign Includes Super Bowl Spot, Hispanic Media, Engagement with Ecuadorian Community 

Along with other first time Super Bowl advertisers, the first ever country to promote tourism was included among the half-time commercials: Ecuador. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador they advertised during the Super Bowl, the most watched one-day television event, “because it would put them on a global platform.” The spots are in 13 markets as part of their “All You Need Is Ecuador” campaign launched in early 2014, to promote Ecuador as a world-class destination to U.S. travelers, and as a place to do business among English-speaking audiences and the U.S. Hispanic population. Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism says that the U.S. is the second largest source of tourists traveling to Ecuador, after Colombia. Featuring the song “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles, the tourism campaign includes engagement with the Ecuadorian community in the U.S., partnering with prominent Ecuadorians who are influential among the U.S. Hispanic population to promote the beauty of the country and to promote Ecuadorian culture in the United States and outreach to U.S. Hispanic media to promote Ecuador and the achievements of Ecuadorians living in the U.S. According to the Ministry of Tourism, “these types of opportunities build national pride, which motivates fellow Ecuadorians to engage with their communities via social media or events.” The social media campaign includes hashtags #SB49 and #AllYouNeedIs, (#AllYouNeedIsEcuador on game day) and tweets from the Ambassador of Ecuador Nathalie Cely @NathalieCely


Multicultural Oakland, California

as appeared in:

Ain’t that a Kick in the Head: Vintage Vegas is Back with a “Vengeance”

Swing music Vintage Vegas-style is going gangbusters on the Strip while Downtown, actual gang busters are on display at the Mob Museum, a pantheon to crime stoppers and crime makers (that would be criminals.)

Just as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, showcasing the latest in futuristic devices, was gearing up, we were winding down a visit to Las Vegas of the past, a Vintage Vegas itinerary of our own creation. We found all things Vegas of the 1940s to 1960s: from WWII era style dancing and lounge singers, Rat Pack stage shows and an afternoon at the Mob Museum located in the US Post Office and Courthouse of the 1950s Kefauver hearings.

No trip to Las Vegas begins before we check the performance schedule for Laura Shaffer, the Bettie Page Clothing Company dress-wearing chanteuse who pays glamorous tribute to the Great American Songbook.  On this trip, she was performing at the Chandelier Lounge, a tri-level bar in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. She always attracts the swing dancing crowd to her usual haunts, the Tropicana Lounge and the Bootlegger Bistro. At the Chandelier Lounge she knew her audience wanted to dance and encourage us she did, even though the “dance floor” was a small area of the carpeted lounge. How can you not get up when you hear the strains of her renditions of Cheek to Cheek, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ Straighten Up & Fly Right, Perfidia and You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To. The “Noir Nightingale’s” schedule is posted at her face book page, Laura Shaffer’s Midnight Refrain, at http://www.facebook.com/laurashaffersmidnightrefrain and  http://www.midnightrefrain.com.

We’d never been to the Chandelier Lounge until this trip but there we were another time for the Jennifer Keith Quintet.  We had danced to her music in Los Angeles when they performed at Maxwell DeMille’s Cicada (Supper) Club, located in the 1928 art deco Oviatt South Olive St building where a Sunday night WWII era radio show is recreated.  Jennifer, whose great-great-grandfather was the “K” in RKO Pictures, that classic Hollywood movie studio, harkened us back to the days of Old Hollywood glamour. Her website jenniferkeith.com, shows her back at the Chandelier Lounge  throughout 2013.

Then it was on to the Wolf Theater at the Clarion, where Larry Liso incarnated Frank Sinatra, in “Shades of Sinatra.” The show also features Carmine Mandia, Ryan Baker and Lisa Smith all crooning such favorites as New York New York, I’ve Got the World on a String, Take All of Me, Come Fly with Me, That’s Life and Luck Be a Lady. On our next trip we’ll try to catch him at La Scala Restaurant.

On this trip, we finally made it to the new Mob Museum, (the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement) which opened just over one year ago on Feb 14th, the day of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago where the Bugs Moran gang was lined-up against a wall and shot and killed by Al Capone’s gang (the actual wall is on display.)

While their website www.themobmuseum.org  suggests that a visit may take from 1 to 3 hours, the three hours we allotted wasn’t enough and we ended up rushing through the last exhibits. There is so much to view and do: displays of artifacts, weapons used by hit men, touch screens with historical information; we joined a police photo line-up, viewed the multimedia screen video while listening to Ain’t that a Kick in the Head, learned about the Mob’s secret message system, listened in on wire tapped secret encoded conversations and tried a machine gun…..but declined to sit in an electric chair.

We read about the Irish and Italian gangs and the days of Prohibition, “omerta” (the code of silence,) the witness protection program and the Mob’s peculiar standard of ethics, “We only kill each other.”

We saw the barber chair where, on October 25, 1957, the boss of the Gambino crime family was murdered. We learned that the son of gangster “Easy Eddie”  O’Hare, World War II Navy aviation hero, Edward “Butch” O’Hare gave the Chicago Airport its name.

We “met”Oscar Goodman, the mobster-representing lawyer and former mayor (We also enjoyed dining at his current restaurant, “Oscar’s” with its spectacular view of the Freemont Street experience); Lucky Luciano, who gave a silver cigarette case, on display, to Frank Sinatra;  Howard Hughes and other famous good-guys and outlaws, Sam Giancana, Bugsy Siegel, Joseph Bonanno, John Gotti, Whitey Bulger, J. Edgar Hoover and Eliot Ness.

We enjoyed the special photo exhibit of “Fabulous Downtown” Las Vegas as it appeared in the 1950s, on view in a third floor side gallery.

We had our fill of Corruption, Conspiracy and Cosa Nostra and Mug shots, Made men, and Mafia There was Rudy Guiliani, our own NYC former mayor and creator of the “perp walk” media parade, who, as a federal prosecutor, helped convict the heads of New York’s “Five Families”.

What we missed out on: The Fire Arms Training Simulator (the line was too long to watch the videos of real life police situations and decide on-the-spot whether to shoot or not; We didn’t have time to listen to all the FBI surveillance tapes (one was enough.)

John tried the video test to determine if he had what it takes to be a made man, but he failed when he had to admit that, no, he wouldn’t kill his own family.

At the end of the three floor exhibit trail we were rewarded with a comfortable seat to view a mini-doc, with film clips from The Godfather and Martin Scorsese’s Casino and Goodfellas.

A clever copywriter had a hand in the website and gift shop: “Plan your visit– See what everyone’s not talking about”; “Museum events – amazing events that also make great alibis” and a t-shirt “I saw Nothing at the Mob Museum”.

On a previous trip we signed up for the Mob van tour, a three-hour drive-by  that took a group of 10 around Las Vegas to the Flamingo Hotel (Bugsy Siegel statue), the house used to film a Casino movie location among other stops.

Now that we toured the Mob Museum in downtown Vegas, John wondered, should we do the Mob Attraction, at the Tropicana, where we had heard that live character actors are dressed up as mobsters and interact with you in a kind of Tony and Tina Wedding experience. No, let’s skip that, I said. I think I’m all mobbed out. Well, as long as you’re not mobbed up, he said.


The Mohonk Mountain House Ballroom Dance Weekend December 2010

If you’ve packed your bag for the weekend with ballroom dance shoes, a tuxedo, a ball gown, and a blaze orange hunter’s safety vest, you’re probably on your way to Mohonk Mountain House’s Ballroom Dance Weekend, held every December.  I’ve been wanting to go for years and finally this past December John and I were able to get there for their 21st annual dance weekend.

The weekend includes a Saturday night black-tie optional dance, (this year to the live music of George Gee and his Make-Believe Ballroom Orchestra), so we were prepared with the clothes for that (and I wish I had thought to bring elbow-length long gloves like those I spotted on the dance floor.) When we checked in we were handed a Ballroom Dancing Weekend schedule of classes as well as dances to live music. And, along with that itinerary, since Mohonk Mountain House is adjacent to Mohonk Preserve, in the New Paltz, NY area, and other landowners’ property where hunting is permitted, we were also given a memo advising us that hunting season was open and to request a safety vest if we planned to hike beyond the Mohonk Mountain House grounds.

Hike? You mean, outside? That was not going to be an issue for us since, once we handed over the car to the valet attendant upon arrival Friday afternoon, we didn’t leave the property until Sunday. Baby, it was cold outside and there was a full slate of dance classes and dancing to do, plus cozy fireplaces to sit in front of in the lounges, not to mention the one in our room. (In fact, Housekeeping comes around and knocks on the door to see if you need more firewood. PS We had a balcony too.)

The weekend featured a Gala Friday night dance, the Saturday night dance and a Sunday farewell dance at 11 am, all with live music. There also were ten classes to choose from, starting with a basic ballroom class for beginners held Friday from 830 to 9 pm, just before the evening dance began.

Who goes to this Mohonk weekend? We met couples from White Plains, Rockland County and Long Island, New York and from the Philadelphia area and beyond. Many were back for their 3rd time. Age-wise, a few couples were in their 20’s and 30’s, many in their 40’s, most in their 50’s and 60’s, and some 70’s, maybe 80’s.

And I say “couples” because this was no “singles” weekend. You’d better come with a partner or you won’t be dancing. This is not like those dance weekends where you can go by yourself and there will be people to dance with in class and during the dances. Nope. This is a romantic weekend for couples who enjoy dancing and each other.

And they are serious about dancing, which I concluded from the fact that about 70 or 80 percent were wearing ballroom dance shoes.

Upon checking in we got into the dance mood right away as we were escorted to room number 567 (and 8, as we called it.) The all inclusive cost covers not only meals and all lessons and dances but tips for the valet, housekeeper and bell boys as well.

We arrived just barely in time Friday for the 4PM daily afternoon tea and cookies, so I raced down there to the Lake Lounge and to explore the property. There was no TV in the room but I spotted one or two TVs in the various lounges. No matter; dancers want to be dancing. The staff told us that about 50% of the guests were there for the ballroom dance weekend. Other theme weekends at Mohonk, with dates selected every month of the year to maximize occupancy during slower periods, involve chocolate, yoga, crosswords, mystery, birding, photography, triathlon training, dieting and family fun.

We had made 7:30 pm dinner reservations for both Friday and Saturday night, so we’d be ready to dance when the band started at 9 pm. (All other meals are buffet style so reservations are only needed for dinners.) On my self- guided tour that afternoon, I had peeked into the main dining room and saw the decorated Christmas tree, the stage for the band and the dance floor at the front of the room. So, when we arrived for dinner, I protested when they tried to seat us downstairs in the overflow room. They caved easily, but once seated upstairs I came to see that it was the downstairs dining room that is the kids-free zone but by then it was too late to change again. So, our first meal was accompanied by the sounds of a Thomas the Tank Engine video on a child size DVD player at the next table. Lunch and dinner the next day were eaten in the downstairs dining room.

Meals were delicious and the wine list was notable. Dinners are a four-course affair and ours included Local Hudson River Valley Artisan Cheese Plate, Grilled New York Strip Steak with Yukon Gold Duchess Potatoes and Natural Jus, Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Butternut-Squash Purée and Creamed Leeks and mint chocolate chip ice cream. We enjoyed the wine so much we even made a note to remember it: a Joseph Carr Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

While we were waiting for dessert I excused myself to go peek into the Parlor Room to see who was taking the basic class. There were about 20 couples learning a basic swing and salsa and one could see they were beginners. I mention this because people always ask “Do I need to already know how to dance to go to a dance weekend?” But no. There were many newbies at Mohonk and so this is a lovely weekend whether you are an experienced dancer or not.

The Friday night band, Andy Moss and The Night Owls, a Hudson Valley orchestra, was scheduled to start at 9 pm and before the clock struck 9:01 the music was playing. (Punctuality was the watchword for the weekend as I also discovered the next morning when I was looking for breakfast. The breakfast buffet had ended at 9:30 but Continental Breakfast was promised in the Carriage Lounge Bar until 10:30. At 10:31 they were clearing it away.)

The first dance of the evening was “Our Love is Here to Stay” but no one was on the dance floor! Such a lovely song that we couldn’t resist being the first couple out there and by the time the song was over the floor was filled. The next song was a rumba but John said, “Port Now, Rumba later” so we went downstairs to The Carriage Lounge for a quick after-dinner drink. Sitting at the bar, with some other guests, we could hear the dancers loudly above us. The phrase “a herd of elephants” was mentioned but doesn’t seem apt given how really good the dancers were.

Back upstairs on the dance floor, we did a tango, merengue and that rumba, a fox trot to “Isn’t it Romantic” and a waltz to “Someday My Prince Will Come” but Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” was a quick step so we sat that one out. By the end of the second set the crowd had thinned by half, and by the third set, which started at 11:10,  it was  down by half again. It’s dangerous for a band to take a break at 10 minutes to 11 pm on a Friday after everyone’s drive up to the country.

On Saturday there was a choice of two classes at 9:30 AM: Beginning Salsa/Mambo & Cha-Cha or Intermediate Fox trot and two at 10:45 AM :Advanced Swing or Beginning Swing. These morning classes were the most popular, with 25 to 35 couples in each. The afternoon classes were smaller. We chose Advanced Salsa/Mambo over Intermediate Tango at 1:30 pm and then Intermediate Rumba/Merengue over Advanced Waltz. While it was called “Advanced” Salsa, I would characterize us as simply more advanced than the beginners. When the instructor Laurie Shayler polled us at the start of the class whether we wanted to work on “turns” or on “shines” she was met with silence until someone finally admitted “I don’t think we know what ‘shines’ are.”

At 4:15 pm a fifth hour of instruction was offered, a Beginning Fox trot and Waltz class. I was debating between Stretch & Tone in the Gym or Afternoon Tea. You can guess which won. I would have liked to have gone to the spa too. Note to Mohonk: Why not include that 50-minute “Real Relief for Calves and Feet” massage spa treatment in the next dance weekend package?

What were people wearing? If you care about being under or over dressed, or care if you are the only one wearing (or not wearing) a swing outfit, you always want to know this answer. For Friday night, here’s what the women were wearing, statistically: 25% LBD (little black dress); 25%  other dresses; 25% nice pants; 25% leggings/other casual pants. Saturday night was the black tie optional dance and John wore his tux. (You don’t have to ask him twice. Or even once, really. He owns 3.) Probably 30% of the men were in tuxes and the rest in suits but some of those jackets came off. We ate in the downstairs dining room Saturday night, mingling with the non-ballroom guests, and he was the only one eating dinner in a tux there.  Finally, ladies, here’s your chance to wear your elbow length gloves in a non-ironic,  non-Halloween way!

Saturday night was our favorite:  George Gee and his Make-Believe Ballroom Orchestra, whom we’d follow anywhere. We’d danced to his music in New York City at Lincoln Center’s summer outdoor dancing series, “Midsummers Night Swing”; in Chinatown at the Grand Harmony Palace Restaurant’s Sweet and Sour Swing dances; on Restaurant Row at Swing 46, and at the World Financial Center.  John also danced to their music in San Francisco at the Velvet Lounge some years back. We waltzed to their “Apple Blossom Time” and did plenty of chachas and swing dances plus a tango or two and tried out our newly learned Mambo routine with a shine (Or was it a rumba? I don’t know; you’ll have to ask John what we were dancing.) George Gee has a Bossa Nova in his repertoire, which John said he “blamed” as the reason to sit that one out and get a drink at the bar. This second night, they had the good idea to set up a bar at the edge of the dance floor so we didn’t have to run up and downstairs to the Carriage Lounge.

The last dance of the evening was “Take the A Train,” so George sent us off with a fast swing. (We know for sure it’s going to be the last dance when we hear a band play Bob Hope’s anthem, “Thanks for the Memories.”) The evening was over, but, wait!, there’s more! Sunday AM. This is a crowd that chooses dancing over dining. One last practice session at 10 am and then a Farewell Dance at 11 that conflicted with the start of the gourmet brunch buffet spread, going on at the same time.

The Night Owls were back and mixed it up so we did a fox trot to “Dancing Cheek to Cheek,” plenty  of swing and then they played “It Was Just One of Those Things” as a quickstep so we had to sit that out. The Quickstep is one of the few dances we both want to sit out. When they played “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” John said it was too early for Viennese Waltz. John won’t hustle either but that didn’t come up this weekend. (I see it will be featured in March as one of the dances “Mohonk Thinks You Can Dance” and will be taught by our other Ballroom Weekend teachers, Candace Woodward-Clough and Jeni Breen.)

After 7.5 hours of dancing over the entire weekend we earned our brunch buffet. Check out time was at the unheard of 2 pm so we had time for a leisurely brunch and we indulged.

Then we went for a little hike on Sunday for 30 minutes just so we could say we did. (Actually 15 of those minutes was spent standing in front of the stone fireplace at the back of the outdoor skating rink.) Just steps out the back door of Mohonk Mountain House there is a choice of a high road or low road. We took the high road, which the sign warned would be steep and it brought us along the rocky edge, overlooking the Shawangunk boulders way up above the lake, and I heard John muttering something about the armless guy in “127 Hours.” Soon we reached a switch back and we could see ahead that the path went straight up, away from the edge of the cliff but also away from the view of the lake.
John said, “Yeah, we’re not going any further,” so we turned around.

One last thing we both agreed to sit out.

Next year’s Ballroom Dance Weekend will be December 2 – 4, 2011 but you don’t need to wait until the end of the year to dance. The “Mohonk Thinks You Can Dance” Weekend, which many of our December Ballroom friends had been to, will be Mar 18-21, 2011.  Also scheduled, a Winter Harvest Weekend, a Cousin Brucie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend and a Couple’s Romantic Weekend, which all include dancing. Mohonk Mountain House is located about 90 minutes from New York City.

For more information and reservations call 800-772-6646 or visit www.mohonk.com

By Lisa Skriloff
www.dancetravelnews.com
lisa@multicultural.com

Dancing Couple
Dancing Couple
Dancing Couple
Dance Hold
Fireplace in the Lake Lounge
Bringing firewood to guestrooms
Ice Skating at Mohonk
View of Mohonk from Trail

 

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