Thursday, September 6, 2018

Staycation: A Night in Manhattan

On top of the world: Empire State Building Observatory

In the original Fame, one of the characters lives in an apartment in Times Square.

But unlike the movies, most New Yorkers live in more residential neighborhoods. So I jumped at the chance to spend the night at the Embassy Suites on 37th Street.

#NYCHotel #NYCFamilyhotel #Familyhotel #bestNYChotel #empirestatebuilding
The new hotel, the first Embassy Suites in NYC, is officially Embassy Suites by Hilton New York Midtown. And it's ideally located for anyone spending a couple of days seeing Broadway shows, visiting museums, and of, course, going to the top of the Empire State Building.

On top of the world

Room with a view AND windows that open
Before my recent stay, I had only been to the top of the ESB once (I also edited at a magazine in the building for 8 years). I was with 2 of my daughters, then 5 and 10 years old. As soon as we got to the top, the power went out in the trip-state region and we had to walk down 86 stories, and 6 and a half miles home.

Skylawn Bar at Embassy Suites
This time, with the 5 year old now 20, nothing so dramatic happened. And we actually got to go twice. We had a New York CityPass, which allowed us to go in daylight, and after 10pm. How convenient that we were only 3 blocks away.

My foodie 20 year old also had a bucket list for her short time back in NYC between her summer internship in Buenos Aires and returning to college. One place on it was Beyond Sushi, a vegan sushi restaurant that happened to be just a block from the hotel.

Colorful and tasty vegan sushi

Plant based dining

Beyond Sushi, a mini NYC chain, has plant based sushi and dishes like 'fun guy' mushroom dumplings, (say it out loud) noodle soups and curries and shared plates with roasted cauliflower, eggplant with tahini and farro sunchoke risotto. We over ordered but managed to eat everything.

Hotel food and more

Some rooms at the Embassy Suites have balconies
The Embassy Suites has a cocktail and appetizer evening reception daily, with a rotating menu of snacks. We checked it out and there was cheese, chips and bean dip. Just for journalistic purposes, I had a martini and it was quite delicious. There were meaty olives and it was icy cold.

If you want a craft cocktail, with top shelf liquor, the SkyLawn Bar has both indoor and outdoor seating and local spirits. Brooklyn distillery NY Distilling Company supplies the local Dorothy Parker gin (one of my faves) and Ragtime Rye Whiskey. There is also a Rooftop Cinema Club, open to the public. Hotel guests get priority seating.

A bar for little kids: the cereal bar
Like all Embassy Suites, the hotel includes breakfast. Omelets are made to order, with lots of fresh veggies. There is also fruit, cereal and yogurt. We were impressed that the fruit included fresh mango.

Leaving the hotel

Apps at the evening reception
If you are traveling with little kids, Bryant Park has a carousel, and free games and crafts. Once there's a nip in the air, the park has free ice skating.

Madame Tussauds New York features wax replicas of local celebrities. And you can also walk The High Line from the northern terminus on 34th Street down to the Meatpacking District.

Note: I was given a complimentary one night stay at Embassy Suites. Opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Eating Well on the Road: Travel Snacks and Food

As a seasoned traveler, I plan ahead and try to have healthy snacks and meals as much as possible, whether at home or on the road. Still, I occasionally find myself confronting a distressing array of empty calorie food choices, or no decent vegetarian options.

The healthy selection at Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens Tampa

For example, I was at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay last week and the only vegetarian option we could find for lunch was cheese pizza. Not the worst choice. But when you live within spitting distance of Roberta's and Table 87, theme park pizza is not what you craze.

Healthy snacks at Busch Gardens

Do you take road trips? Try these #healthysnacks #roadtripsnacks #glutenfree #vegan
We did find one place with healthy snacks. There were Clif and Kind bars, dried edamame, Peeled Snacks organic dried fruit and almonds. It's a start. But Busch Gardens should take a page from Disney, which does have appealing vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options at almost every venue in its parks.

New player in the healthy food market: HMSHost

HMSHost, which runs cafes and snack shops in airports and service plazas around the world, just introduced a the "Eat Well. Travel Further' initiative at select airports and travel plazas around the country.

Sampling of HMSHost healthy snacks.
Bento boxes include a vegan and a protein lunch boxes. The vegan box has chickpea salad, roasted red peppers and veggie chipsAll the boxes are under 500 calories (ever look up the calorie count in a smoothie from the airport?) and include nutrient dense food. There is also fresh fruit, hummus with veggies, count water and kombucha.

Flying off the shelves: healthy snacks at airports

HMSHost sent me a sample box of some of its new healthy airport and travel plaza offerings. Some items I was familiar with: protein loaded Rx Bars and Peeled Snacks. But there was also the low calorie, addictive Skinny Pop popcorn, and Bare fruit chips. Skinny Pop and Bare products are also vegan and gluten free.

Other healthy offerings include That's It bars, made with just whole fruit and Rhythm Superfoods kale chips. The kale chips have all the vitamin K you need for a day, plus over half the vitamin A.

Justin's almond butter packets are great to pick up if the only thing you can find is a bagel. And the Biena chickpea snacks give your snacks plenty of protein and fiber (add some to a salad).

Note: I was sent a sample pack from HMSHost. I was not compensated for this post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Pick a Winner: Family Trip to Florida

Sunset from Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach

As my kids get older, it gets harder and harder to gather all 3 to take a family trip. My middle daughter just started law school across the country, but before my youngest started her senior year of college and the oldest went back to the fall semester of grad school, we squeezed in a 4/5 of the family trip to St. Pete / Clearwater.

#wyndhamgrand #bestfloridahotel #floridagetaway #familyvacation #beachvacation

Winning Entry

Even better, I won the trip from the Visit St. Pete Clearwater tourism board. We stayed at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, right ton the beach and in a connecting room suite with plenty of room for the 4 of us.

Had we come with younger kids, we could have gotten a room with bunk beds. And an Adventure Pack geared towards children. Since my youngest is 20, she was more appreciative of the Keurig coffee maker and balcony.
Fish tacos poolside, 3 to an order

What to do at Wyndham Grand

If you just want to hang by the pool all day, no one will judge. There are plenty of lounge chairs, and some shade, surrounding the large, heated pool. Heated? Really? Well, it was still refreshing for a dip.
Pubic playground, next to the hotel

The towel cards were a bit annoying; to get a towel, you have to turn in towel card. You turn in your towel to get the card back. And at check out, you are charged $45 per missing card.

I guess this cuts down on people stealing towels, or grabbing 6 per person. And I am all about being environmentally correct. But the hotel also makes a green claim in the room, that towels are changed only every 3rd day , if you hang them back up.  So we all dutifully rehung our towels - and they were charged twice a day.

Free yoga

The hotel has different daily activities - a live band was performing when we arrived. And there are pool games, arts and crafts and other family friendly activities. We took a free yoga class, on the turf near the pool. The instructor knew what she was doing and it was a perfect way to start the day.

Hit the beach

Marina view, from our balcony
You have to cross the street to get to the sugar sand beach. It's a public beach, so a private concession rents chairs and cabanas. [You can bring your hotel towel - but remember to return it!] There's also a large public playground right next to the hotel.

Daily sunset

Get out of your shell and go to the beach
The Wyndham is next to Pier 60, which has a sunset festival every evening. Except when we were there. It started raining at 5pm our first 2 nights, and though it had stopped by sunset, few of the promised vendors and musicians made the soggy trek to the pier. The third day, it started pouring at 5pm, on cue, but didn't stop till after 10.  We did get to watch a fabulous sunset from our table at the Wyndham's high end Asian fusion restaurant, Ocean Hai, our first night.

Family - and adult - friendly

All rooms have mini fridges and coffee makers. The hotel bar doubles as a coffee bar during the day, with pastries and sandwiches. You could get your kids an egg sandwich and set up camp at the pool for the day.
Running and biking path

The pool cafe delivers food to your lounge chair. We had giant fish tacos and a huge salad for lunch. Though the prices were a bit high, we needed on 3 dishes for the 4 of us, and we still didn't finish.

Ocean Hai gave us a big plate of edamame with black sea salt and dumplings to start our meal. We had spicy pad thai, a seafood pho studded with vegetables and more dumplings. Again, we needed only 3 entrees at dinner. [Note: we paid for our meals].

Getting active

Early morning empty beach run
The hotel has a large gym overlooking the Gulf. The lobby had a bowl of oranges and apples, perfect for a before workout snack. We also ran along the protected bike path over the causeway. I'd definitely return to bike along the path.

We played mini golf at Captain Bligh's. The pirate themed course had caves and water hazards. It cost a surpassing $10 a person. You can also charter a boat at the marina, or take a sightseeing cruise.

Note: I won this trip, which included airfare and hotel. I was not otherwise compensated. Opinions are my own.