Month: September 2014

Daditude

“You think I wanted to be married and saddled with you two brats at 25?” my dad says as we sit on a dock in Burdett, New York, at the site of Seneca Lake of the Finger Lakes. “I thought I would be hanging on the back of a boxcar headed to Sante Fe.”

The water is rolling on, its tiny waves cruising alongside white sailboats through the lake. Seneca Lake is calm, like it, too, has passed through its wildest moments.

Right now, imagining my chubby father with a smile stretched across his face in his dad jorts and holey socks holding on to a train car seems pretty funny. After he toted us to from our chosen winery of the moment to a craft store (any man’s nightmare), planning on sleeping on the couch tonight as my sister and I claim the two bedrooms in our rented rustic cabin, I know that what he says was once true.

Back in his heyday, my dad was… a lot like how I am now. He was always looking for a way to get out and cause some mayhem with his dopey friends, could generally be found hanging out at dirty bars, was never really sure who’s couch he would end up sleeping on that night and was always on his way to somewhere else. He spent hours running through forests, chasing deer and catching turtles. He says he was making $5 an hour and had a girlfriend that cost him $6 an hour.

The idea of such change, from a wild, young pseudo-adult to a responsible parent of two, scares me inconsolably. To think that my dreams of adventures of faraway places and the many memories to come with my equally instantly-gratificated friends could fall to an ordinary existence toting brats around is petrifying. I know the fear is exclaimed across my paling and silent face.

“You don’t see it now,” he says, reaching down to touch down a scurrying fish, “but you’re not always going to want that.” I say nothing. He’s right, I don’t see it now. I see the clearness of the lake and the freedom that I have stretched before me in a life with no ties to anything at all. “You’re not going to want this forever. You’re not going to want to hang out with yourfriends and go to bars. You’re going to want to go to your kids’ parent-teacher conferences and go away for the weekend with your husband.”

At one time, for a very short time, that was my dad’s life, too. He and my mother were married for ten years, which I have varying memories of us going to zoos and kid-friendly restaurants and parks. The other varying memories consist of my mom throwing hair-dryers at him and her asking me if I would mind switching schools midyear as we moved, for the first time of six, following my parents’ divorce.

Nowadays, not a lot of semblance of my father as a saddled married father of two remains. We frequently take bets on when his newest girlfriend will be kicked to the curb, I sometimes get his drunken voicemails when I wake up for work on Thursday morning, and my dad is always headed to a concert or upscale restaurant with his cigar-smoking friends.

However, the semblance of his daditude that does remain is, I guess, vehemently instilled in dads everywhere. Here we are for four days, holed up in a cabin he found via some other rich white dude. He drives us anywhere we want to go and isn’t the least bit offended when my bratty sister complains about the WiFi or lack of soda. Most of all, even though it sure as hell isn’t Sante Fe and we got here via 2001 Ford Ranger rather than box car, my dad couldn’t be happier to be hanging out on the dock of a Seneca Lake cabin with his hat over his face, chatting with his daughter.

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Grand Cascades Lodge: A Rustic Retreat Of The Kittatinny Mountains

Written for Luxe Beat Magazine

There is a modern, upscale renaissance of classic Adirondack-style lodging, energized by the natural allure of surrounding mountains; an elaborate combination of dark wooden beams, natural stonework, high ceilings and intimate fireplaces; subdued jeweled tones in a rustic palette of greens, browns, yellows and reds; undisturbed views of lush woodlands and mountainous terrain. Could this be Colorado, Washington, possibly Minnesota?

Try New Jersey.

As a western New Jersey resident and frequent traveler, I always feel an unfortunate edge of surprise when I see a look of disdain roll across another’s face when I tell them I’m from the Garden State. Little do they understand, New Jersey truly is full of natural beauty in its mountainsides, lakes, forests and farmland. One such place that represents the natural luxury that exists within our little state is Grand Cascades Lodge, a year-round retreat. Located in northwest New Jersey as a part of Crystal Springs Resort, Grand Cascades “reminds visitors why New Jersey is nicknamed ‘The Garden State,’” said Michelle Abate, director of marketing for the resort. Even as one accustomed to the outdoors, I, too, would soon discover this during my stay at the Lodge.

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“Guests feel as if they’re vacationing at a hidden gem tucked into the lush and verdant countryside of northwestern New Jersey,” Abate continued. “Because Crystal Springs is located away from all the hustle and bustle of urban areas, guests feel like they are far away from home and the stress of their daily lives.”

As the newest sister hotel to Mountain Creek and Minerals Hotel, both a part of Crystal Springs Resort as well, Grand Cascades Lodge was opened in 2007 and introduced as the most lavish option in the resort trifecta. Abate said, “[We] wanted to take our level of offerings to a higher level. Grand Cascades Lodge brought a new level of sophistication and elegance to Crystal Springs Resort, and is a fitting lodging option for guests wishing to enjoy our finest amenities.” As a frequent visitor to Crystal Springs Resort’s other family-oriented hotels, before I arrived, I wondered how different the Lodge could be from its hotel sisters.

Being that Grand Cascades lies in a locale that lines itself with competition of New York City and Jersey Shore vacation destinations, I also questioned how the Lodge could set itself apart from Jersey’s beckoning beach resorts. Abate said, “Crystal Springs Resort is set apart, due to the abundance of attractions and activities in one destination, which is nearby to homes of most of their guests, compared to resorts that would require a flight. The combination of activities, amenities and dining in such a picturesque location lures guests away from the routine and stress of everyday life. Our fine-dining and wine collection is a hit among guests, as well as the unique tropical Biosphere complex and #1 NJ golf course, Ballyowen.”

She wasn’t kidding. Even though I’m not a golfer, I was never bored during my stay. Instead, I enjoyed breathtaking views from the Vortex Pool and Biosphere, reveled in a glass of wine on the firepit on the deck with fellow guests, and sampled fine meals from the plethora of restaurants on-site. It was certainly a drastic twist from my usual weekends spent at the Jersey Shore, but I was pleasantly surprised at the calming quiet, verdant scents, and various activities that, shockingly, didn’t need a beach badge.

From miles across the mountainside, Grand Cascades Lodge is easily distinguished in the area, featuring a commanding yet romantic design. Driving up to the front of the Lodge, I was left breathless from the striking landscape that stretched before me. Inside, accommodations followed suit, incorporating the Adirondack style within hushed woodland themes in the colors, materials and furniture, making for a luxurious yet rustic feel – bewitching even for someone as myself, who is used to these themes.

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Much like the medley of offerings and activities found in the great outdoors, Grand Cascades Lodge doesn’t seek to define itself as the premier destination for one type of visitor but yet classifies itself as catering to couples, families or groups of friends looking to indulge in a first-class leisure experience. Examples are their indoor and outdoor tropical pool complex, plethora of dining options, two on-site golf courses, spa services and outdoor activities.  It would be common to see a wife at the spa, her husband at the golf course, and kids at the pool – during my stay, it seemed like there was something for everyone.

“Mother Nature’s wonders clearly influenced the design of the Biosphere,” Abate said. This $7 million intricate indoor pool complex includes an abundance of tropical foliage, chamber-like Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna, underground aquarium, vortex pools and caves and German Foiltec glass roofing system that allows UV rays to penetrate for year-round tanning. This provide a great way to enjoy surrounding views of snowy peaks in the depths of winter. Since it was summertime, I also lounged at the outdoor pools, which showcased astounding perspectives over infinity edges.

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At both indoor and outdoor pools, I was surprised that there was no need to fight for a chair. Instead, I could enjoy the quiet, space, and views in both sunny and not-so-sunny weather with a drink to match.

Megan Holt, guest of the Lodge, said, “The Biosphere pool was a unique tropical oasis that was a perfect activity for a cloudy day. It was impossible to get bored with a hot tub grotto, sauna, water slide and pool bar. Scenery was beautiful and waterfalls and fountains created a relaxing atmosphere for lounging and reading.”

However, a natural feel isn’t just left for views. Crystal Springs Resort holds a partnership with Green Valley Farms in Wantage, New Jersey called “Farm Fresh to the Resort Table.” Both chefs and farmers share knowledge on planting, harvesting and raising livestock to hold and raise their own bunnies, chickens, eggs, and produce, including sweet corn, zucchini, tomato, squash, cucumber, potatoes, beans and carrots for resort restaurants.

This program most evidently comes into play for Springs Bistro, which features Tuscan-inspired cuisine set against a backdrop of the organic Chef’s Gardens, containing the Lodge’s own herbs, flowers and vegetables. Instead of walking back into the kitchen to prepare meals at the Bistro, chefs literally walk into surrounding gardens, pick proper ingredients and prepare their creations in front of you at the dinner table. When I am looking for a truly luxurious experience, I was relieved to know I ate well and stayed well. There is nothing quite like knowing that you can see exactly where your food was grown.

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Abate said, “The amazing herb and vegetable Chef’s Garden, with views reminiscent of Napa Valley, was created to ensure freshness and quality of ingredients served throughout the Resort’s dining and catering venues.”

Those looking for the most premier of dining options head to Restaurant Latour, one dining options at the Lodge. There, guests view the all-embracing spectacle of the Kittatinny Mountains, accompanied by a three or seven course meal. This restaurant is a four-time winner of Wine Spectator magazine’s Grand Award of Excellence, has been “Recognized for Excellence” in Zagat NJ Restaurants for 2009-2010 and has been rated as “Excellent” by the New York Times.

Although I was disappointed that I did not get a chance to eat at Restaurant Latour, due to its days of operation, I did dine at Crystal Tavern, which characterizes itself as an “upscale pub.” Luckily, it was even more than this – there is no resisting enjoyment of a fine breakfast with French-pressed coffee right over a view of the Kittatinny Mountains.

Holt, who dined at Crystal Tavern, one of the Lodge dining options, said, “The food was locally grown and organic when possible. Portions were fairly small but everything I ate was delicious and well thought-out.”

Grand Cascades Lodge is also home to the newest and seventh golf course in the Crystal Springs Resort family, Cascades, with 117 holes designed by prominent golf course architect Roger Rulewich of The Golf Group. It is home to Wild Turkey golf course, also designed by Rulewich, which was named one of New Jersey’s Top New Public Courses by New Jersey Golf Course Owners Association. Also, as a green initiative, each of the Crystal Springs Resort golf courses are designated as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System. Even though I am not one who enjoys a golf game, its refreshing and comforting to walk by those practicing their swing over a beautiful green golf course.

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Reflections Spa, ranked #19 in Spas of America’s Top 100 Spas, is also onsite at the Lodge. It was impossible for me to not notice immediately  its décor such as 8,000 quartz crystals ceilings, fanciful water features throughout the corridors, and fire-inspired art glass. Reflections Spa also boasts elements of the local environment, such as “The Wine Cellar,” which implements treatments using wine and grape seed extracts in spa services. Other services include hair and nail treatments, cosmetic enhancements, massages, facials and body treatments.

Being that the Lodge is located in rural northwest New Jersey and features various inspirations from the surrounding terrain, there are also a plethora of outdoor activities, both on-site and in the nearby locations encompassing Crystal Springs Resort. The Adventure Center at Mountain Creek holds nature hikes, guided mountain bike rides and mountaintop horseback riding. Within walking distance of the Lodge, guests can also visit the Crystal Springs Quarry for trout-stocked fishing.

With so much going on, what guests would enjoy Crystal Springs the most? Abate said, “An ideal visitor is someone searching for a mix of serenity and adventure, without the stress of traveling too far. Crystal Springs Resort offers a breadth of world-class amenities.”  As someone who fit that mold, I was pleased to get away for a night, only an hour away from my home.How many people can say that about their family vacation?

As a past visitor of other members of the Crystal Springs Resort family, including Mountain Creek, Great Gorge Village, Minerals Spa and others, Grand Cascades Lodge holds its own in the Crystal Springs Family.  Abate said that there is a common string that holds the group together. “All resort attractions are part of a collection wherein the breadth, uniqueness and quality of amenities are unparalleled vs. any other area resorts.”

For more information, visit http://www.crystalgolfresort.com/stay/grand-cascades-lodge/

Circus Goes Paper

Your Tuesday ticket to travel is coming to the Courier News, Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com.

If you met me, you would probably wonder if I’m tall enough to ride roller coasters and you would guess that I spend a lot of time at malls.

What you wouldn’t guess is that I have an insatiable appetite for travel that has propelled me to more than 20 countries, 40 international cities, 30 American metropolises and not enough times to the Jersey Shore.

Besides moonlighting as the MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com Social Media Editor five days a week, I’ve been blogging, backpacking, wandering and writing since before I had braces, a whirlwind of sometimes curious, yet always exciting, journeys.

Every Tuesday, I’m going to take you with me.

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I’m going to show you that your weekends don’t need to be made up of laundry, shuffling kids and paying bills and that you don’t need to be a celebrity to find the time or cash to take advantage of the wonder that travel brings.

As we’re all aware, New Jersey has never been known as a hub of tourism. Not only do outsiders think that our backyards are made up of trash-heaped landfills off the Turnpike, but Jerseyans themselves feel too busy, too overwhelmed and too overtaxed to see the thrills that could await them if they could only use up a few of their well-earned vacation days.

But you know it is possible, and so do I.

I’ll show you enchanting East Coast landmark restaurants, parks, historic sites and hotspots that take up less travel time than your morning commute. I’ll take you to hidden gems of cities and walk you through what to do during a weekend getaway. I’ll give you little-known travel tidbits that will transform you from tourist to local. I’ll take you to legendary corners of the world that may inspire you to use up those vacation days after all.

I want to hear what you have to say, too. If you have a travel question, a tip or destination that you think everyone should enjoy, tweet me at @JIntersimone or email me at JIntersimone@MyCentralJersey.com anytime. I care about your feedback because the point of this column is to get you out in the world — trust me, I’m already there. Travel is best enjoyed, and understood, with the echo of many voices and footsteps.

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So why should you listen to what I have to say?

I’m writing it because I’ve done it and I’m doing it now. Even if my days of spending a month in Europe on less than a grand are on hold, one is never free of the travel bug. I still spend my time jet-setting — actually, asking for rides — to every under and over appreciated destination I can swing on my off days.

Two years ago, I finally stopped to record all of the otherworldly places that I had visited on a blog, which I called LifeAboardTheTravelingCircus.com, a name that I chose to highlight the often absurd adventures that took place on my own “life aboard the traveling circus.”

Today, that blog is stuffed with over 150 posts, photos and almost 2,000 followers. It has been with me when I lived next to the Duomo in Florence for a few lucky months, when I unfortunately ended up in Istanbul alone, and when I met my family for the first time in Norway. It has been the launch pad for work I’ve done for travel websites, magazines and blogs. Now, your Tuesday ticket to travel is coming to the Courier News, Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com.

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Bob Loves Cape Cod and So Do I

Bob loves Cape Cod.

Throughout the many years that I have been attached by the hip to my good friend Alex, we have always been born beach rats, jumping on any chance we could to get on the Parkway for about an hour and head down the Shore. Never ones to stay idle for very long, we like that it only takes 60 minutes or so to get to our favorite bars, surfers, restaurants and shorelines. Her dad, Bob, however, isn’t found at our favorite Shore very often. Instead, he’s usually packing up the Cherokee and going north, headed to his true love, Cape Cod.

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Brewster Bay Beach

The only memories of Cape Cod that I had prior to last weekend were from the time that Bob lent his bayside paradise to my little clan and we stuffed into my dad’s pickup truck for a miserable eternity where we drove endlessly through a monsoon to a place that, to my untrained eyes, looked a lot like Long Beach Island only a hell of a lot further away.

So, when Alex invited me to Cape Cod for Labor Day Weekend, I was actually excited to go to a place I was sure I had missed out on when I was little and only had my weirdo parents to lead me around.

Upon arriving to Cape Cod and heading to Bob’s favorite hometown breakfast joint, Grumpy’s, and getting in the line wrapping around the building, I asked Bob, among the weeping willows, bayside bungalows and locally own cafes why Bob chose to keep this home in Cape Cod when he could have one at the Shore which he could potentially enjoy every single summer weekend. Being that Cape Cod is five hours away from New Jersey, it’s definitely not the most convenient of summer homes.

“At the Jersey Shore, you get up, go to the beach, go to the boardwalk. If it rains, you can’t do anything. In Cape Cod, there’s always something new and interesting to do. You don’t need a boardwalk to have fun.”

As much as I love the Shore, I had to admit, he had a point. I would soon find, throughout my long weekend in Cape Cod, how right he was.

After a rather friendly breakfast at Grumpy’s, Alex, our friend Megan and I headed over to the Brewster Bay Beach close to Alex’s development for an afternoon hanging out in the sun. Unlike Shore beaches, it had a decidedly untouristy feel, with people fishing and riding their sailboats all around. Although this made the beach not incredibly ideal for sunning with its seaweed-filled water and quick-moving tide, it was a close destination for some much-needed sand time.

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That night, Bob and his wife treated us all to a grandiose dinner at The Pearl, a picturesque yet packed restaurant tucked on the Wellfleet Harbor, where we killed some time before dinner checking out the boats and snapping sunset pics. We came across a 19-year-old who had built a boat that was sitting on the harbor, which he used to go crabbing and sell his finds to neighboring restaurants. As we chatted with this happy yet dirty kid who lived his life on his boat in his bay, I really started to wonder if these were the people who were doing life right.

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Wellfleet Harbor

Later, Bob dragged us all to his favorite local watering hole, The Woodshed, which looks pretty much exactly like it sounds. It’s literally an oversized shed/bar absolutely stuffed with people dancing poorly to a live old-man band jamming out in the back.

The next morning, we decided that we would take advantage of the sunny weather and head about an hour north to Provincetown, a notoriously quirky community that’s very reminiscent of Key West with its homey cottages, sparkling water and happy people.

We first hiked the 176 steps of the Pilgrim Monument upon our arrival, a tall monument built in 1892 to commemorate the Mayflower Pilgrims’ first landing in the New World in Provincetown in November 1620. From the summer of the structure, you get a very windy yet scenic view of the Provincetown Harbor. After our descent, we headed to a local bike shop, rented some bikes and baskers and prepared for a leisurely drive to and around the beach.

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The Pilgrim Monument overlooking the Provincetown Harbor

We were sadly mistaken. First, we arrived at Herring Cove, a bright and untamed beach, where we simply laid in the sand in our already-sweaty clothes and enjoyed the sunshine and sand for awhile. Then, we hopped back on our bikes and ended up delving deep into the trails surrounding Clapps Round Pond and Province Lands Road. In our beach gear and flip-flops, we were embarrassingly unprepared amongst serious bikers flying up and down the hilly course that spanned several miles.

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Herring Cove

Back in Provincetown, we arrived sweaty and sleepy, but night was descending quick which meant that it was high time for Commercial Street, the “Main Street” of the town filled with galleries, boutiques, packed seafood restaurants, dive bars and drag shows. Rainbow flags flew overheard the endless train of drag queens that paraded the streets, offering advance tickets for their shows. We gave in to their clever ploys and purchased tickets for Electra at the Post Office Cafe and Caberet, who went from Lucille Ball to Cher to Barbara Streisand and Elton John.

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Commercial Street

Early next morning, we got in the car and drove to Hyannis,  home of the Kennedy Compound and also the locale for our Hyannis Whale Watching tour. Although four hours to spot a couple of whales was pretty hefty for someone who hates sitting still, it was still pretty cool to spot a couple of whales and their babies and imagine the heft that was underneath the water.

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A humpack whale on the Hyannis Whale Watching Tour

Cape Cod is no Seaside or bar-packed teen beach destination. Instead, it’s a subdued yet thriving shore community that never needed cheap boardwalk games to have fun because it has real, unique attractions.

Sleaze and Seduction in Atlantic City

Driving into Atlantic City on a bustling sunny Saturday afternoon, the air heavy with the promise of short dresses and tall drinks, there is an invisible cloud that hangs above. Although I know it lingers behind sad “cash for gold” signs, dark back alleys, and mahogany boardrooms with hopeful sellers, I don’t immediately see if beneath the flashing lights and well-dressed people shuffling from their cars and into the casinos; the indoor playgrounds.

I forget the uncertain future of the town that I often read about in local newspapers and instead, I feel an immediate jack in optimism as I walk through the double doors. Even at the tender time of 7:00 pm, still perfectly light in the summer, girls are hiked up in their high heels and boys are suited up, passing drinks. No one is stressed, overwhelmed or downtrodden and instead, they relish in the simple delight of being away, yet not too far away, in a place that is perpetually on vacation.

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Without ever having to step into an airport, the entirety of the City is on holiday. All they had to do was fill up a backpack, stop at the liquor store, and get on the parkway. No matter how often or how little that we go, Atlantic City is our very own resort; in our very own backyards.

However, behind closed doors, the future is much uncertain. Within seven months, three casinos have turned off their last fluorescent light. Throughout the past eight years, profits have plunged by $2.34 billion dollars, having started 2006 making $5.2 billion, cutting revenue almost in half.

This is a sad story for the city that once ran the show against prohibition, where rules were negotiable and freedom was rampant  during the 1920s in one Jersey locale. Gamblers and drinkers waved their hand to the conservative ruling and instead, threw around their glamour and glitz alongside their whiskey drinks and dancing women. Without the cloud of prohibition to ruin its weekends, Atlantic City quickly became “The World’sPlayground.”

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However, as all tales, the golden days of the city came to an end around World War II and it quickly became overrun by poverty, crime, unemployment and corruption. Today, Atlantic City is no longer the hotspot of gambling that it once was, falling to competition from Pennsylvania and online casinos in New York and Maryland.

Unfortunately, at the time when this all is happening, Atlantic City doesn’t have much other industry to sustain it. It is still seen as solely a hub of gambling but without gamblers flocking to it as their number one, it is quickly dropping revenue, casinos and jobs.

As bleak as this all sounds for the city, it’s actually not all bad. This is occurring in part simply because there are too many casinos. Unfortunately, these are all sad effects of the realistic ending that the market needs to correct itself and adjust to the true number of gamblers that are flocking to betting centers. Plus, as the gambling industry is continuing to change, Atlantic City is seeing that it needs some other attractions going around to keep families headed to the Shore spot, an effort they are pursuing incessantly.

Even if one day, Atlantic City becomes the new Point Pleasant and Jerseyans get on the Atlantic City Expressway just to hang out on the boardwalk with their toddlers, to me, it’ll always be the charmingly seedy town where I booked ghetto motels to save cash but ended up in suites at the Borgata. It’s where I danced in the House of the Blues, snuck into the Pool After Dark, and struggled home on that three-hour drive back north. I’m glad for industry, economic prosperity and employment coming to Atlantic City, but I’m glad to always have fond memories of blurry nights out, constantly full glasses and the opportunity to be on vacation at only a drive away.

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