Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation

Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)

Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)

You’re in The Loop when you stay at theWit.

 

Well situated at State and Lake Streets, the hotel is close to Macy’s shopping, Walnut Room tree and holiday windows, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Millennial Park’s Caroling at Cloud Gate and ice skating rinks, the Chriskindle Market, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago’s holiday-decorated Thorne Miniature Rooms and a short bus ride to the Auditorium theatre to see Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

 

The hotel also has arrangements with the Art Institute for the Andy Warhol exhibit and the Chicago Theatre across Lake Street for Cirque du Soleil’s “Twas the Night Before”

 

Gingerbread village and ice skating rink in theWit lobby. (the Wit photo)

Gingerbread village and ice skating rink in theWit lobby. (the Wit photo)

 

Exploring the nearby holiday events will help burn off the treats you will want to try after seeing Chef Toni’s gingerbread village in the lobby that has edible characters and sweets available for purchase online at A Bit of theWit.

 

In between shopping and shows , stop at the hotel’s State and Lake Chicago Tavern, Executive Chef Nathan Sears’s gastropub with artisanal American cuisine.

ROOF at theWit is a popular place to hang out. (theWit photo)

ROOF at theWit is a popular place to hang out. (theWit photo)

 

The place to hang out here is the ROOF. A Chicago Loop theatre ticket will get you a complimentary drink with the purchase of a drink. But the ROOF is also among the top 10 roof-top bars in the country.  It features a DJ on weekends plus champagne on Sundays and Thursdays.

 

The other place to de-stress from shopping and holiday dashing is the Spa @ the Wit  or the fitness center which has floor to ceiling views of the city.

The fitness center at theWit. (theWit photo)

The fitness center at theWit. (theWit photo)

 

A Four Diamond hotel with a sleek, contemporary vibe in the Doubletree by Hilton group, theWit is at 201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601.

 

Staycation for the holidays

North Michigan Avenues Magnificent Mile twinkles after the Mickey and Minnie Mouse parade flicks the lights switch (City of Chicago photo)

North Michigan Avenues Magnificent Mile twinkles after the Mickey and Minnie Mouse parade flicks the lights switch (City of Chicago photo)

Shopping, shows, sights and lights, Chicago’s festival markets and moments seem to be descending at express-train speed. But instead of shouting “stop the train,” take control of the season with a “staycation” that balances shopping with spa time, festival watching with fitness-center wellness and special exhibits with special cocktails.

 

Several Chicago hotels are putting together packages that make staying downtown a fun alternative to insanely commuting to catch events. Because holiday gifts and sights stretch from Macy’s on State and the Art Institute of Chicago to Magnificent Mile and the Lincoln Park Zoo, a good plan is to make your holiday headquarters a hotel near Michigan Avenue

 

A place that fits the spa, fitness, cocktail requirements, has rooms with great views and  holiday deals is the Peninsula Chicago on East Superior Street at North Michigan Avenue’s Mag Mile.

The Peninsula Chicago pool and Fitness Center have floor to ceiling views of the city (Peninsula photo)

The Peninsula Chicago pool and Fitness Center have floor to ceiling views of the city (Peninsula photo)

 

At the Peninsula Chicago, it only takes one ride up the elevator to the 19th floor to fall in love with the half-Olympic size pool edged floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the Magnificent Mile, the Fitness Center with its all-glass city views and the comfy spa facilities there and up a level in the hotel’s Wellness Center. They offer perfect down-time relief.

 

At night, go to the Z Bar on the 6th floor for hand-crafted cocktails, gourmet cuisine and city lights. Listed in the 2019 Forbes Travel guide of World’s Best Hotel Bars, the Z Bar is chic and a relaxing place to wind down.

Peninsula Chicago Z Bar overlooks Michigan Avenue. (Peninsula photo)

Peninsula Chicago Z Bar overlooks Michigan Avenue. (Peninsula photo)

 

Among the the hotel’s Special Offers  are good room rates for Black Friday-Cyber Monday, a fun ZBar Ugly Sweater Party and a complimentary room upgrade.

 

Also check out the Peninsula’s Holiday Packages such as Holly Jolly Chicago which includes in-room holiday décor, a round of complimentary skating and drinks for two at the hotel’s Sky Rink, a MINI Cooper chauffeured drop-off ride to Christkindlmarket, time at the hotel’s Chocolate Bar for two Friday or Saturday evenings, daily American Breakfast and in-room holiday movie library

 

The hotel is perfectly located for: the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Nov. 22-23, shopping at Water Tower and shopping the Mag Mile including the new, world’s largest Starbucks Roastery in the former Crate & Barrel building, seeing Lookingglass Theatre’s Jeff award winning “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” in the Historic Water Works, exploring the Driehaus Museum, an exceptional mansion that has Tiffany glass windows and lamps and going over to Navy Pier for its WinterWonderFest.

 

The hotel is also a short bus ride away from Lincoln Park’s ZooLights.

Peninsula lobby decked out for the holidays. (Peninsula photo)

Peninsula lobby decked out for the holidays. (Peninsula photo)

 

As to style, Peninsula Chicago is a 5-star luxury hotel that complements its North Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile corner at 108 E. Superior St., Chicago, IL.

 

Look for Orionid meteors

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

 

Look up! If the night sky is clear where you live watch for the Oronids, a major meteor shower produced by the debris from Halley’s comet.

 

Named for Orion the Hunter because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation, the Orionids have been already shooting across the sky and will do so into November. But they are peaking now through Oct. 22.

 

They have been known to shoot across the sky at 80 an hour but according to Bill Cooke a NASA they are likely to number from 30 to 40 per hour. They are very fast 148,000 mph so watch carefully.

 

The question is how much a factor is the moon which has waned to its half-phase. The full Hunters Moon has already passed but moonlight may make a difference. However, go to a spot without streetlights and commercial buildings. You won’t want binoculars because you are watching the whole sky.

 

Several astronomy sites have good charts and information on meteors. Take a look at Time and Date, Space and EarthySky.

 

 

Discovering a great way to vacation in Central Florida

Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)

Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)

 

Sometimes my family stayed on a Disney property. Other times we stayed at a nearby  resort but rented a car. This time, I decided to accompany a small group whose aim was to check out a variety of attractions and travel options in the Kissimmee area.

 

The result was one surprise after another.

 

This was to be a no-car rental vacation. Yes, renting a car will likely be an option for some families and couples but we wanted to see what could work without that choice.

 

We stayed at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, supposedly about 25 minutes from the Orlando airpor (MCO). When we took an MCO limo to the hotel we could see why some visitors would prefer the limo or Lyft to renting a car because the highways seem worse than the LA Freeway during rush hour.

 

Who really wants to put up with traffic when vacationing. It took our experienced driver 40 minutes, not 25, but we could relax.

 

The second good choice was choosing a hotel that had a free shuttle to and from the Disney properties.

 

We  went to EPCOT because the annual International Food & Wine Festival was going on. Loved it. Good small bites, fun entertainment and a good way to see the theme park’s major exhibits and countries.

 

Even October can be hot, hot, hot here. So time after a few hours of eating we decided to catch the shuttle back even though there were still more places to see and food to try.

 

However, what we saw when waiting for the Omni shuttle at a transportation hub attached to EPCOT were signs for Disney shuttle buses to other properties such as Hollywood Studios where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge just opened.  So, still no need for a car rental.

 

Back at the hotel, we went in different directions. One person went to check out the spa. I needed a refreshing swim so headed to the adult pool. It was late afternoon so we agreed to join the other two in our group in the David’s Club, a sports bar

 

I wished my back still let me play 18 holes because it had two Greg Norman championship courses calling my name for the next day. Oh well.

 

The world of Harry Potter at Universal. (J Jacobs photo)

The world of Harry Potter at Universal. (J Jacobs photo)

 

But what I still wanted to do was see the Harry Potter sections of Universal and visit other area attractions such as the Celebration, an unincorporated “town” in Kissimmee and take a Boggy Creek Airboat also in Kissimmee.

 

So I took LYFT to Universal. It’s further from our hotel than Disney World but I had excellent drivers  going and coming. The rate each way was under $30 and I didn’t have to worry about highway traffic or parking costs.

 

To really do Harry Potter right I needed a Park to Park ticket because half of it was in Universal Studios where I found Diagon Alley and half was in Island of Adventure where I found Hogsmeade.  To go from one to the other I took the Hogwarts Express. What fun!

 

Tips: Best choice here is to get an Express Pass. You really do get into the park faster, on the rides faster and so have more time to enjoy the parks or go back to accommodations to relax.

 

Sp;otted a couple of alligators while doing a Boggy Creek Airboat ride in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo

Sp;otted a couple of alligators while doing a Boggy Creek Airboat ride in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo

 

But a vacation to Central Florida’s Orlando-Kissimmee area isn’t just about theme parks.  Kissimmee waterways feed into the Everglades so the area is a good place to take a safe ride through the natural vegetation past alligators, great blue herons, eagles and osprey.

 

So we took the Boggy Creek Airboat Rides because of its reputation for safety. Plus it has a good snack hut that has marvelous baked beans and there is a nice Indian Village at the back of the property where visitors hear about local tribes. Tips: Early morning is best to see alligators who like to sleep in the mud in the middle of the day.

 

On to Celebration for another surprise.

 

Built on property formerly owned by The Walt Disney Company, Celebration is a planned community within Kissimmee where the houses on some streets resemble once-upon-a-time, small-town USA and on other streets appear to be mansions.

 

To me, the whole town was a surprise and seemed related to the satirical science fiction story of Stepford Wives or, as someone in our group pointed out, The Truman Show.

 

The community has schools, parks and recreational facilities plus a cute downtown of restaurants shops and the Bohemian Hotel for visitors.

 

To see the town some visitors drive, others go to Celebration Bike Rental. Given how hot it was when we were there, instead of each renting a bike,  we opted for a ride in an old-fashioned roadster look-alike with a shady top,

 

Taking an old-fashioned roadster ride through the community of Celebration in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo)

Taking an old-fashioned roadster ride through the community of Celebration in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Our driver was a member of an early Celebration family so knew all about the town, its advantages, its rules for changing house colors or curb-side flowers and how good the schools were.

 

The restaurants and bakeries all looked inviting but our lunch was at Boggy Creek.

 

I recommend getting a guide to talk about the town, its growth, its restrictions and where to eat if there during meal and snack time.

 

Back again at our hotel we thought we’d explore the property. The resort’s pools make this a great place for youngsters. Aside from the Adult Pool, there is a Lazy River, a zero –entry Family Pool, a Kids Pool with slides and a 7,338 square-foot Wave Pool.

 

I appreciate good sushi and sake so my fave dining spot at the hotel was Zen but mostly we hung out ad David’s where the Select Guests’ hotel cards given us when we signed in were good for drinks at any of the restaurants, coffee shop or deli but we used them mostly at the sports bar.

 

Ballooning over the Orlando Kissimmee area of Central Florida. (Kyle Johnson photo)

Ballooning over the Orlando Kissimmee area of Central Florida. (Kyle Johnson photo)

 

One other activity we tried was hot-air ballooning. The meeting site was nearby at Showcase of Citrus in Clermont, but the landing location was near the hotel. I and another member of our group happily watched while two people in our group and other visitors who signed up took off in two balloons. A third balloon held a couple we learned afterwards at a champagne ceremony became engaged while up in the air. Wow.

 

Given parking fees and rental costs I found MCO limos, LYFT and shuttles to be a realistic option and happily didn’t worry about traffic.

 

By the way, there are several accommodation options in the area. For more information go to Experience Kissimmee/visitor

 

 

 

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