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Travel Like a First Class Passenger in Economy

February 25, 2013
Pilots in Plane at Gate

Photo by Brian Herzog

For those who think the price of first or business class seats are too steep, there are only a couple of ways to obtain the golden fleece. You can use frequent flyer miles to upgrade to premium seats, or if you’re on a plane that’s overbooked in economy class you might be lucky enough to be selected to sit in the front of the plane. Often, the airlines will check frequent flyer status to upgrade passengers, and take those who are among the first to check in electronically.

I cannot emphasize enough how being extremely polite, well-dressed, and having well-behaved children (if you’re traveling with kids) can be to your advantage. Employees, especially those who have worked in the industry for decades, have an image of who deserves to receive better service. Think about it. A man wearing khakis and a dress shirt vs. one wearing cut-off jeans and flip flops might have different experiences from the curb to the gate. This could range anywhere from a skycap tagging your luggage ‘priority’, to an agent choosing you to check in at first class, to a flight attendant escorting you to ride in premium class if there’s still availability. You might get the royal treatment if you dress and behave like “royalty”.

If you don’t like taking chances on getting into first or business, there’s always Plan B, which is to plan ahead for a more premium experience. Here are some tips on how to travel like a first class passenger, even though you’re booked in economy. Please share any of your ideas in the comment section below.

Airports

Not all airports are created equally. Some offer more creature comforts than others. You just have to prioritize which benefits are most important to start your trip off right. Though a smaller airport might not have lots of places to visit while waiting for a flight, its amenities like speedier check-in and free parking might outweigh eating sushi or tapas in a nice restaurant, shopping at Brookstone, or sitting in a lounge for the included wifi.

  • Trenton/Mercer – Free parking, short check-in and security lines, cheaper but limited fights with Frontier, and not international.
  • Atlantic City – An international airport with cheaper flights (Spirit and AirTran) and parking fees, but few shopping and dining choices.
  • Philadelphia – Shorter check-in and security lines than EWR, JFK & LGA, lower security fees these airports (hence cheaper  flights), and less traffic to airport  than other area commercial airports.
  • Newark – You can take NJ Transit directly to the airport, and they have plenty of domestic and international flights, lounges, eateries, and shopping. On the downside there’s some traffic, airport delays, and the lines are long.
  • JFK – Largest variety of flights, lounges and shops galore, but the most traffic and longest distance to the airport, and most delays.
  • Laguardia – Large variety of domestic flights. The busiest airport in the U.S. without non-stop flights overseas, which can cause many delays. It has lots of traffic and is a longer distance to the airport.

Check-In/Security

You can avoid the long lines by checking in at a kiosk, and only bringing a carry-on if possible. Some airlines like Southwest or JetBlue offer free checked luggage. Also, some hotels will pay your baggage fee, so ask before you book.

You’ll possibly be able to go through priority security lines if you ask the TSA agents politely. They might give you a break if you’re going to a funeral, beginning your honeymoon, pregnant, traveling with young kids or an older parent, injured, nicely dressed, etc.

Lounge

Photo from Virgin Airways – New JFK Clubhouse

Buy a public pay-in lounge pass available at select airports, or a day pass at an airline lounge when booking your flight. Purchase a Priority Pass to gain access to lounges domestically and internationally (available at select JFK lounges). I have heard that some people stand outside lounges to ask members if they can join them as a guest (at times for a fee).

Visit the Newark Airport Chapel/Meditation Room without kids in Terminal C between gates C70-99 and C101-115 for quiet reading.

Simulate a lounge atmosphere with snacks, beverages, and something to keep you busy or entertained until boarding. If you’ve arrived early, check in at your gate (for upgrade possibilities) then proceed to the closet gate that’s empty, and stay there until 30-45 minutes before your flight is scheduled to depart. Another approach is to arrive early and grab a corner spot at your gate to read, work on documents, watch a movie, or listen to music. Turn your volume down 30-45 minutes before the flight to listen for announcements.

Premium Economy

Premium seats have evolved a lot within the past two decades due to Virgin Atlantic creating Premium Economy, which was similar to the old business class. It could cost you anywhere from just under $100 to $2,000 over an economy ticket depending on the flight. It’s a lot more to pay, but it’s a fraction of the cost of business and first class, making it a deal for what you get. Perks (on international flights) could include: priority check in, security and boarding, free checked luggage, snacks, drinks, personalized entertainment screen, power outlet, 20″ wide seat, 38″ legroom, leg rest, amenity bag, wifi, reading light, and a special menu.

Comfort

You can check Seat Guru or SeatExpert for the best seats available on your flight. Bulkhead seats are great for more legroom, and aisle seats can allow you more space one side. Sometimes an extra fee is charged for these two types of seats. Avoid seats that don’t recline.

You can make your seat more comfortable on longer flights by bringing a small pillow to support your lower back, like the inflatable lumber pillow, or support your neck like with the Travelrest Pillow. Also, a travel blanket is nice to have for warmth. Ladies, sometimes a Pashmina shawl is all you need to double as a blanket.

Meals

Pack food with you from home, i.e. a sandwich, nuts, granola, etc. if you’re flying during a meal time (especially on domestic flights) to avoid pricey, mediocre meals the airlines sell onboard. Another alternative is to buy something on the way to, or at the airport to eat on the plane so you eat what you want, whenever you want.

If you’re flying oversees, order a special meal up to 24 hours before your flight, including kids’ meals (tip: Hindu gets you Indian food). It will usually be served earlier than other meals, which allows you to sleep earlier on overnight flights.

Gourmet Airplane Food

Certain carriers sell premium meals in economy class. U.S. Air introduced theirDineFresh program in August 2012 for flights out of Philly to Europe, South America, and the Middle East, which is supposed to rival first class meals. These chilled meals come with wine, must be ordered 24 hours in advance online, and will be brought to your seat. Hawaiian Air has an upscale snack menu, and Delta’s DineUp menu on select flights from JFK to LAX or SFO are prepared similar to first class meals. These meals must be pre-ordered 48 hours in advance online.

Beverages

Standard soft drinks, coffee and orange pekoe tea are still served on flights, but if you want a specialty soft drink like a Starbucks Frappuccino, purchase it at the airport. Bring your favorite tea bags, hot chocolate mix, or instant coffee (like Starbucks Via) with you from home for better hot beverages. Place an empty Brita water bottle in your carry-on, fill it at a water fountain near the gate, and optionally add MiO Liquid Water Enhancer for a cold flavored drink. If you ask for a less popular drink on board, they often give you the entire can instead of just pouring half in a cup filled with ice. If not, ask nicely for the can and they’ll probably give it to you.

Amenity Kits

Amenity Bags

This is a great for oversees or west coast flights. If you don’t have a bag from a previous flight, buy a hanging toiletry/cosmetic bag so you don’t have to place it on the lavatory’s wet counter, and fill it with your favorite travel-size products, then pack it in your carry-on. They can be budget items from CVS or Rite Aid, or luxury products from local shops. Below are some suggestions.

  • CVS or Rite Aid – Pick up some hand sanitizer, ear plugs, mouth wash, tissues, deodorant, disposable shaver, shaving cream, after shave, dental floss, emery board, toothbrush and tooth paste, moisturizer, etc.
  • Belle de Masque Eye Masque – This silk eye mask is expensive, but it has 18 amino acids and copper to help regenerate your skin.
  • Yoga Socks or Totes Toastie Slipper Socks – Take your shoes off and slip these on for more comfort.
  • Acca Kappa Hairbrush – This anti-static small pneumatic travel brush prevents damage to hair.
  • Travalo – Fill you favorite fragrance in this travel size spray or rollerball bottle. Available at CVS.
  • Evian Mineral Water Facial Spray (1.7 oz) – Perfect for rehydrating your skin, making you look refreshed. Ladies, it’ll revive your makeup.
  • Beecology Buzz Balm or Burt’s Bees Lip Balm – Keeps your lips from getting chapped. The latter is available at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods
  • Bluemercury – This Princeton shop has many travel size products.
  • Origins in Princeton – They also have several travel size products.

Portable Entertainment

Entertainment

When booking, check to see which flights offer individual monitors with a free audio & video program for lengthy travel. Bring an airplane headphone jack adapter and noise canceling headphones or earbuds.

If they don’t offer this or charge for entertainment, bring your tablet, laptop, or smart phone with downloaded shows, movies, and apps. For kids, bring their Nintendo DS, PSP, Leapster, etc. Don’t forget to pack your favorite reading material, including an eReader.

If you can turn your phone a hot spot,  you can to get wifi for your laptop or other mobile devices while waiting at the gate. Also great for the gate is a portable storage device with its own wi-fi network like the Wi-Drive (16-64 GB) pictured. The new Seagate Wireless Plus offers 1TB of storage for movies, music, and documents, and up to three users can watch three separate movies simultaneously.

The Princeton Public Library is your best friend for traveling entertainment. Not only can you get guide books and novels to read, but you can borrow an eReader (iPad 2, the Kindle Touch, the Kindle Fire, and the Barnes and Noble Nook) for a week with pre-loaded content, or if you already have an eReader or tablet, you can download audio books, eBooks, magazines, and music (including some Top 40 hits) all for FREE with a current Princeton Public Library card through their eLibrary.

A Short Stay in Bermuda

August 2, 2012
Royal Naval Dockyard, Sandys, Bermuda

Royal Naval Dockyard

I just returned from a cruise to Bermuda, where I got to spend three days. At first, I thought it was a bit bland compared to some Caribbean islands I’ve visited, but then realized it was more refined/genteel. Saying this means no disrespect to others, but it is noticeable that there are no people trying to sell things to you on the beach, or scam you on the streets. Someone was speaking to us at a bus stop at the Royal Naval Dockyard, and we thought he was going to pressure us into a tour, and it turns out that he was an employee just giving advice. I quickly came to realize that Bermuda is a nation of more gracious living. This was quite refreshing.

There are no casinos in Bermuda on the grounds of corruption and morality, and cruise lines aren’t allowed to operate their casinos while in port, so if this is a deal breaker, Bermuda is not the place for you. However, they do offer lots of water sports and golf.

Water sports and tours consists of jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, sailing, glass bottom boat tours, and sunset cruises. You can also find waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, caving, helmet diving, parasailing, and banana boating.

Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda

Horseshoe Bay Beach

The waters for snorkeling are calm at Snorkel Park, but costs $5.00 per person to enter. You can go to local spots that are quiet like Daniel’s Head reachable by the 7 or 8 bus, but it’s a little hike to get to, or the ever popular Horseshoe Bay, which is filled with tourists and the 7 bus takes you there (plus there are shuttles down to the beach for $1 down and back up for $2), but the waves are a bit stronger.

Bermuda must have the most golf courses per square mile, than any other place in the world. There were about nine courses on this small collection of islands. So if you’re a golfer, this will be paradise.

St. George's, Bermuda Dunking Stool

Dunking the Gossiping Nag in St. George’s

St. George’s used to be the capital, but now it’s Hamilton. I actually find St. George’s more charming. The Town Hall is right near the ferry station at King’s Square, and they offer free guided walking tours. We decided to roam around on our own. Also at the square are stockades and a dunking stool. There’s a free show that takes place in front of the Town Hall. It’s historical, entertaining, and not to be missed, which basically involves a gossiping nag and the aforementioned dunking stool. It was a great photo op, and really funny. Somers Wharf is a nice pedestrian zone that has a good selection of shops (my favorite was the English Sports Shop), and there are some restaurants at the wharf with harbor views.

Sessions House in Hamilton, Bermuda

The Sessions House

Hamilton is home to the famous Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel, great shopping on Front Street (there’s also an English Sport Shop location here), and the Custom’s Office where you can get your passport stamped if you arrive by cruise (there’s also an office in St. George’s). The capital city has lots of commerce. This is where you see several men wearing Bermuda shorts with long socks as part of their business attire. You’ll also find the Sessions House (House of Assembly and Supreme Court), and the Cabinet Building (Senate). It’s more hectic than St. George’s, but has a lot more to offer.

Clocktower Mall at Royal Naval Dockyard in Sandys, Bermuda

The Clocktower Mall

The Royal Naval Dockyard is a fortress that consists of several shops, restaurants, and the Clocktower Mall where I found a few souvenirs. Beyond one side of its wall is a man-made beach area with a play area and sunken objects with fish swimming around them making it attractive for snorkeling, hence the name Snorkel Park. My daughter loved snorkeling around the sunken items. It’s also home for a few days for tourists aboard the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise lines on Kings and Heritage wharfs, so beware of crowds on port days.

Bermuda is small enough to easily get around the entire island in a day. Tourists can’t rent cars, but can rent scooters. I wouldn’t recommend it, especially for Americans. Bermudians drive on the left, and the very narrow and twisting roads cause accidents for both drivers and pedestrians who look in the wrong. I’ve actually seen a few results of some accidents. I suggest booking an organized tour, or taking public transportation, which is quite good. Air conditioned buses and ferries can get you where you need to go. We took ferries to and from St. George’s, Hamilton, and the Royal Dockyard, which is faster than land transportation.

Overall, I find Bermuda a place to relax, go to the beach, indulge in water activities including fishing and boating or yachting, play golf, and go out for nice meals. You can go for an extended weekend and still see all of the highlights and get in snorkeling or jet skiing everyday. Spend a week there if you really want to relax (unless you take a cruise there). If you’re looking for gambling, fantastic duty-free shopping, plenty of things to do for kids, and spectacular evening entertainment, you might want to visit Paradise Island in the Bahamas, or other Caribbean islands.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Chef’s Table

July 30, 2012

A growing trend in the cruise ship industry seems to be offering a multi-course chef’s table to passengers. Norwegian Cruise Line introduced its chef’s table earlier this year. I recently sailed with them, so as a foodie I had to make a reservation for this event to see what the commotion was about.

The meal takes place just once per cruise. It’s an intimate nine-course dinner for 12 paired with wine by the line’s Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson. This special event includes a personal waiter, the head wine stewart describing the wines, and the executive chef explaining the dishes of every course.

It takes place in a private section of a restaurant for a more exclusive atmosphere, and lasts about three and a half hours depending on after dinner drinks (our group hung out for a while after the meal).

First we were served a glass of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine in an adjacent lounge before taking a group photo with the chef, food & beverage director, and restaurant manager, and then a couple’s photos with just the chef.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Versace Table Setting and LavoshThe table was beautifully set, right down to the Versace chargers and place cards. Normally, cruisers on NCL enjoy Freestyle dining, so they eat with family or friends. The guests at the tasting had the opportunity to dine with others who appreciate fine food. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people.

Tomato, basil, and lavender lavosh were standing upright in a vase. These crispy blades of flat breads decorated the table with bold colors.

The first two courses were paired with a Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Everyone loved this fruity wine.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Amuse BoucheThe chef’s amuse-bouche embraced molecular gastronomy. The vodka and jalapeño ravioli topped with a mango sphere lead the way. The sphere instantly collapsed, and gently flavored the bite-sized hors d’oeuvre.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Tuna Tartare

Up second was an Ahi tuna tartare with a sesame crisp and orange wasabi glaze. The sushi grade tuna practically melted in my mouth and the glaze added a nice brightness to the tartare.

The following four courses were paired with a Silverado Vineyards Chardonnay.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Asparagus CreamAsparagus cream was delivered next. This soup included cauliflower flan in the center, topped with crispy beetroot and saffron angel hair. The servers presented the flan in soup dishes, then poured the broth around it, which is common in finer restaurants. I loved the flan, and the broth was excellent, though I prefer mine with a dash of nutmeg.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Short Crust Tartlet

A short crust tartlet was served as the fourth course, featuring goat cheese and sun-dried tomato, with basil oil and Kalamata olive tapenade. This was my favorite course. The classic goat cheese and sun-dried tomato duo was sublime in this tartlet, and the basil oil sent it to another level.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Grapefruit and Moscato GranitaGrapefruit and Moscata granita was brought to cleanse the palate. It was very refreshing, had a fine consistency, and bursting full of flavor. I really enjoyed this. Divine!

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Plantain Crusted Sea Bass

A plantain crusted, pan seared sea bass topped with mango, papaya and avocado salsa with a lobster velouté was served after the granita. The sea bass was cooked to perfection. I love plantains, but the they were a bit chewy, and therefore a little difficult to cut with the fish knife.

The last three courses were served with a Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon. This was my favorite wine.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Milk-Fed Veal Chop

The milk-fed veal chop was at least two inches thick, and was served with truffle veal jus, Anna potatoes and sautéed spinach. The chop was very juicy. I haven’t eaten veal in about 15 years, but I truly enjoyed eating this with the flavorful truffle veal jus. It was so large, I could only eat half, though most others seemed to have finished theirs.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table St. Andre Triple Creme and StiltonSt. Andre Triple Creme and Stilton were served with honey comb, port wine infused fig slices, bagel chips and pickled watermelon. Delish! The sweet items paired perfectly with the cheeses, and the diced pickled watermelon with a hint of allspice helped cut the richness of the cheese.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Dome DessertNorwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Chocolate Log Dessert

Two desserts were offered. A dome made with yogurt mousse and lychee raspberry crème over a hazelnut sablée with lime vanilla reduction was given to the ladies. A chocolate log, which was a spiced dark rum infused banana in cocoa mouse topped with chocolate ganache was given to the men. Loved my dessert!

Norwegian Cruise Line's Chef's Table Chocolate After Dinner DrinksAfter dinner, we walked back to the lounge for a digestif. Lavazza coffee, water, Glenlivet, Bailey’s Irish Coffee, Courvoisier V.S., Grand Marnier, Kahlua, and Sandeman Founders Reserve were offered. My husband ordered the Courvoisier, but I’m a lightweight and opted for the Irish Cream, which was a delightful conclusion to an amazing meal.

Norwegian Cruise Line Galley Tour from Chef's Table Package

We received the two photos, and a sign and stamped copy of the menu from the chef. It was then revealed that a galley tour the following morning was also included, led by the chef himself. It covered several decks, including food storage areas, and took about an hour.

This meal is a deal! You only pay $75 for an experience that is better than most excursions at this price. It’s more than just great food, it’s the drinks, VIP service, photos, a galley tour, and conversation.

The only downside is this menu is the same on every ship, and hasn’t changed since its introduction in March. If you sail more than once with NCL and want to sign up for another dinner, you’ll have déjà vu, though I would gladly eat it again. Hopefully they change the menu by September so it only has a 6-month run just for a little variety, but I don’t foresee a change until perhaps the anniversary of the meal.

Where in the World Am I?

November 29, 2011

I just returned from a vacation, which involved several locations. One of them I found quite fascinating. Below area few pictures of a spot located in the U.S. I want you to guess where I am. The only other clues I’ll give you is it’s in the southeast, not far from a port, an area beach is named after a beverage, and this place is not flooded. Where in the world am I? Try to get as specific as possible, and write your thoughts in the comment section below.

Aspen, Breckenridge, Frisco and Vail in Summer

September 15, 2011

This summer I decided to check out Aspen, Breckenridge, Frisco and Vail to continue to get a different perspective of ski towns without the snow. A friend asked what there is to do if you’re not skiing. That’s a fair question. I occasionally visit ski resorts in the summer because I love being in the mountains, and it’s a great  way to escape the heat. Also, I get to experience the resorts without the crowds, which means easy parking, no waiting, more options for dining, etc. The bonus is it’s less expensive than in winter, so for those who don’t have the budget or time off for traveling there during the peak times, they can have a similar experience for up to half the price.

I must admit, I LOVE snow-covered and snow-capped mountains and winter sports, so summer is a bit different. No downhill or cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snow tubbing, sleigh riding, or dog sledding. Plus there’s no après ski sitting around a roaring fire with a hot drink or cocktail. So what is there really to do? I answered my friend with a list longer than expected, and recommended visiting the Rockies in the summer.

You can take a gondola to the top of the mountain for nice views, and in addition, Breckenridge and Vail have “Adventure Parks” at the top. They offer activities like bungee trampolines, Alpine rides, mini golf, pony rides, gold mining, disc golf, a rock wall and more, for a fee. Each location’s activities vary a bit. Often you can bring your bike up via gondola and ride it down for a true mountain bike experience. There are also trails at the top for hiking or cycling.

You can also go white water rafting, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, fishing, golfing, swimming,and  play tennis in the surrounding area. After all of those activities, there are many spas in the towns to release your stress, and pamper you.

For the non-adventurous types, there are lots of shops and restaurants. Aspen has some international luxury shops like Burberry and Ralph Lauren, while Breckenridge and Vail have local shops, of which some are luxury boutiques. There are lots of restaurants and cafes to sit al fresco and enjoy a meal or cappuccino, while people watching. Vail has a few Austrian, French, German, Italian and Swiss restaurants to match their Alpine architecture. There is also a scenic area in Aspen called Maroon Belles. You have to take a tour bus up the mountain to a protected national forest, and you can see the 14,000 ft. peaks reflecting in a lake with beautiful wildflowers around it.

If you enjoy water sports, you can head over to the Frisco Bay Marina for canoe, kayak, powerboat, sailboat, and paddle boat rentals, as well as sailboat lessons. There’s even a playground for kids, where you can picnic. Frisco also has an “Adventure Park” at their top of the gondola, and a really nice Historic Park and Museum, where my kids sat in a jail cell. It’s a quaint town worth the visit.

We stayed in Vail, which is my personal favorite of  all the towns. We often go to the Austrian Alps, and this was like being there without having to speak German. Vail consists of several villages. Most of them are residential, but Vail Village and Lionshead have the most to offer, and they’re on the slope side of the highway. West Vail also offers eateries, shopping and the post office on the opposite side. Much of the action is in Vail Village where they host an amazing farmers market. The Shops of Solaris is home to CineBistro, which is a movie theater that gives adults the opportunity to dine while watching a movie, and Bōl, which is a bowling alley with a bar and dining room in the front, and lanes in the back with comfortable lounges, giant screens, and delicious dining options.

If you fly into Denver, make sure you stop by the Red Rocks Amphitheater for a view of the city in the distance, and the picturesque red rocks all around you.

I was concerned about my family being bored, but there was plenty to do in summer, including visiting the other towns. The next time we’ll go up to Steamboat Springs, which has hot springs, but I have to say, I’m very content just hanging out in Vail.

Take A Virtual Winter Getaway

December 28, 2010

Winter can be harsh. It’s cold, and there’s snow, sleet, freezing rain and black ice. How can you turn your disgust for the weather of the season into a positive experience? The way I see it, you have to battle the winter blues with a vacation, but not just one, multiple vacations. The season lasts three months, so getting time off and paying for these getaways might be impossible for many.

If you’re fortunate enough to be a jetsetter, you can afford one or more winter getaways. It’s great to be on a white sandy beach looking at turquoise water and sipping on a cocktail, while everyone else is digging their cars out of the snow to get to work. But you probably can’t stay away the entire winter. Well, if you can, lucky you!

If you have some funds stashed away for winter fun, but not enough to spend a week in the tropics, or you just can’t take a full week off, you can go away to an exotic location for an extended weekend, or just have some local weekend fun. But again, time flies while you’re having fun, and you’ll be right back in the cold before you know it.

If you have no budget or time to escape, you’ll be at the mercy of Mother Nature.

The answer for all is to take a virtual vacation. You can take one in the evening, on the weekends or during a winter storm. It can last 5 minutes, an hour or the entire day if you plan it right.

If you have a fireplace, start a nice crackling fire to sit in front of. If you’re sans fireplace, turn the heat up or use a space heater to warm your chilled bones, watch the above video, and play some reggae, calypso or Hawaiian music.

Now that you’re toasty warm, watch the video above to get in a relaxed mood while eating some tropical fruit, seafood, Jamaican jerk chicken, Hawaiian pizza, or perhaps a nice cocktail to indulge in. Stretch out on a lounge chair or the sofa and enjoy. To really add to the atmosphere, fill up a vaporizer with water and lots of salt to replicate the salty sea air and give yourself a bit of humidity. It’s amazing how the ocean can soothe you, even if it is simulated. This undertaking could turn a blizzard day into a tropical virtual vacation. You can go as far as sleeping in the guest room or on the sofa bed at night to give yourself the feeling of staying overnight elsewhere. Have a special breakfast in the morning to help break up your daily routine.

Enhance this experience with time in your jacuzzi or bathtub while sipping on a fruity cocktail, run in place or on a treadmill while watching the beach scene, have someone give you a massage at home while listening to island music, buy some orchids to give the room a tropical smell, listen to language tapes to give yourself the feeling of being in a foreign country, bring a small sandbox inside and sit with your feet in the sand. Do whatever it takes to simulate a beach vacation.

A sure-fire way to battle the winter blues and win, is to physically or virtually getaway. It’s great for the mind, body and spirit to somehow leave the winter weather behind, even if only in your mind, and concentrate on warmth and relaxation. This version of a virtual vacation is not like having a getaway memory planted in your brain like in the movie Total Recall, but it will provide plenty of winter blues therapy while keeping your wallet intact. What would you do during a virtual vacation? Mahalo!

 

In New York City for the Holidays

December 20, 2010

The Christmas season is a magical time for the young and young at heart, and New York City is magical all year-long, so doesn’t it make sense to visit the Big Apple during the holiday season? It’s an amazing time to be in a city that never sleeps. I love being greeted by the deciduous trees once it’s dark, all wrapped with white lights, and Christmas music when I walk into shops. It makes me feel like a kid again.

There are so many obvious things to do while in New York City before Christmas. They may seem cliché, but I can’t get enough of doing these things, especially since it’s ONLY once a year.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a beautiful Neo-Gothic style Roman Catholic cathedral, and is the seat of the New York archbishop. It takes up an entire NYC block, which if you’ve been to New York, you’ll know is massive! About three million people visit it every year for good reason. During advent, you can see a beautiful nativity scene, and since it’s near Rockefeller Center and Saks Fifth Avenue, I would encourage you to stop by and see this landmark!

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a must. It’s best to see when it’s dark out to appreciate the lighting. The promenade is also nicely lit, and you get to see the skaters merrily gliding across the ice rink down below. And yes, you can also skate in the heart of the city! If you don’t want to wait up to one and a half hours to skate here, you can go to Central Park’s Wollman Rink or Citi Pond in Bryant Park for skating. If you get cold, grab a hot chocolate, coffee or tea at the Dean & Deluca Rockefeller Center Café.

Another bonus is Saks Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral are both across the street. Standing in the promenade close to Fifth Avenue I was able to see the angels in the promenade, the Christmas tree in the background, and when I turned around, the fabulous 3-D projection shown on the façade of Saks Fifth Avenue. What a treat for the eyes!

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes is an annual tradition for some. It probably sells more tickets than any other show in the city during the holidays. It’s one and a half hours of pure excitement. People go just to see the Rockettes, but there is so much more to see, including wooden soldiers and Santa!

If you don’t get a chance to catch Santa at the Radio City show, you can head over to Macy’s or Bloomingdales to tell jolly ol’ St. Nick what you want for Christmas. Hey, put in a good word for me while you’re there!

The ballet season is in full swing by the time the New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker opens. Marching soldiers, a dancing sugar-plum fairy, waltzing flowers, a nutcracker, and more add to the allure of this beautiful ballet that’s perfect for the entire family for the holiday season.

There are a few holiday markets around town. I went to the one at Columbus Circle. There are many vendors selling toys, clothing, jewelry, food, holiday items, etc. I even saw German Glühwein (warm spiced wine) at one stand to take the chill out of your bones. There are also holiday markets at Bryant Park, Grand Central in Vanderbilt Hall, and Union Square. While you’re at Columbus Circle, you should check out the Shops at Columbus Circle for the most amazing selection of upscale stores and fine restaurants in a NYC mall.

Many store windows have a holiday theme this time of year, but my personal favorites were Saks Fifth AvenueLord & Taylor and Macy’s (not necessarily in that order). The old school displays work best for me, since Christmas is a time for family traditions. I like the mini mannequin scenes with mechanical sets. Basically, I love rotating or sliding scenes, but I am open to something modern if it’s creative. The department store window displays can be horrible, amazing, or even spectacular to view. Here are photos of some of my favorite scenes from the three departments stores I visited. Barney’s and Bergdorf Goodman usually have nice displays, I just didn’t get to them. Bloomingdale’s totally disappointed me this year.

Saks Fifth Avenue had a snowflake and bubble theme. The video above showed  part of the amazing The Snowflake and the Bubble spectacular projected onto the façade of the building. The windows tied into the theme by using elements of  bubbles and snowflakes in an avant garde way.

Macy’s went with the theme Miracle on 34th Street. This gave them the opportunity for self-promoting. The windows were classic, but more static than I was hoping for.

My favorite windows (though I was extremely impressed with Sak’s projection display) were at Lord & Taylor. The theme was based on customer suggestions. Each scene used individual customer traditions. They were displayed on two levels, one traditional and one contemporary. I should’ve taken a video to record the motion, but I needed a wider angle lens to capture the combined scenes as the vignettes rotated.

I was disappointed not to find A Christmas Carol playing in the city. Luckily I was able to see it at the McCarter Theater, where it plays every year.

You can squeeze all of this fun into a weekend, or casually take walks through Central Park, visit all of the holiday markets, check out all of the holiday windows, see two or three shows, take a horse and buggy ride through and around Central Park, and see lots of NYC sights, for an entire week of holiday fun. Regardless how you experience it, New York City can be a magical experience for you no matter what your budget is, or how old you are.