Friday, January 24, 2014

Rowley Bay Resort--Door County's largest on the waterfront

Zipping through the forest.
I’ve been on ziplines many times, but last summer I had the opportunity to be an inaugural guest at a new zipline before it was even open to the public. Not sure if being a guinea pig was smart, but zipping the four lines through a forest canopy at Rowley’s Bay Resort in Door County, Wisconsin, turned out just fine.

We arrived at Rowley’s Bay Resort, a folksy property that has been run by the same family for more than 40 years, on a warm summer day, perfect weather for all the outdoor activities that guests come there to enjoy. Located just north of Sister Bay, it’s situated on 100 secluded acres along a Lake Michigan bay--a peaceful setting for relaxing or following outdoor pursuits.

While I’m more of a fair-weather tourist when it comes to northern climates, the resort operates year-round and welcomes winter guests to cozy cottages and suites with access to an indoor pool, exercise room, library, and glowing lobby fireplace. Bird-watching is a four season activity, with about 200 species passing through annually.

Rowleys Bay Restaurant serves traditional food--and plenty of  it.
But back to our summer visit. With the addition of DC AdventureCenter, a recreational partner at the resort, there are myriad activities to keep guests busy.  If regular zip lining is too tame, try one of their glowstick nighttime zip line tours. They also offer a variety of kayak tours and rentals, including guided tours of Lake Michigan and Green Bay, If you’re nimble in the water, hop on a stand-up paddleboard and skim down the bay to the Mink River Estuary where you can see a variety of lakeside flora and fauna.

Start a variety of water activities from the dock at Rowleys Bay.
May through October are the magic months for outdoor activities. Reel Addiction Charters gives fishermen have the only direct access to legendary Four Foot Shoal, one of the best places to catch trophy king salmon on Lake Michigan. Just steps away from the resort, you can launch water craft for canoeing, kayaking, sailing or windsurfing. Bring your own gear or rent it there. If that’s not enough, loosen your limbs on five miles of hiking trails (ski trails in winter) or strike up a game of tennis, volleyball, or basketball at on-site courts.

Another favorite activity is the off-road Segway adventure on the resort’s trail network. Oversized tires allow the Segways to traverse trails and absorb bumps with ease. Set up a tour with Seaquist Segway located beside the DC Adventure Center building.

Charlie, a former theater teacher, uses his
drama skills to portray original settler
Peter Rowley. 
A highlight of our visit was an entertaining presentation in which an 87-year-old local storyteller named Charlie played the part of Peter Rowley, namesake of the bay who sojourned to this area 150 years ago. He tells the story of the bay’s early days interspersed with details of the traditional fish boil, a delightful experience that never fails to amaze visitors.

The explosive finale of a traditional fish boil
leaves the whitefish tasting delicious.
As each ingredient was added to the cauldron of water boiling outside, “Peter” described the process. Red potatoes are first, followed by tiny sweet onions. Locally caught whitefish are added just before kerosene is thrown on the fire, and the pot boils over in a spectacle of flames.

The fish is then served at a massive buffet dinner featuring a large variety of meats, vegetables, salads, and desserts. I sampled several pieces of cardamon bread, a traditional Swedish coffee cake served by Jewel Ouradniks, co-owner and manager of the resort. I left with one of the famous half-pound pecan rolls from Grandma’s Swedish Bakery, started by Jewel’s mother Alice, whose recipes are faithfully followed today.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cancun Underwater Museum and Visitors Center

Cancun Underwater Museum sculptures
If you haven’t been to Cancun, Mexico in several years, there’s an amazing new attraction that you won’t want to miss—sculptures at the Cancun Underwater Museum. Snorkel or dive among more than 400 life-size figures surrounded by a variety of fish and marine life.

Coral has started attaching to the sculptures in the ocean.

The monumental underwater sculptural museum was established in the waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc by British artist Jason DeCaires Taylor. It will be an ongoing project for years to come.

New since September, 2013, The Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau has opened Cancun Underwater Museum Visitors Center, showcasing replicas of 26 of the Cancun Underwater Museum’s (MUSA) most popular underwater sculptures. Taylor added 11 new sculptures in September bringing the total of underwater art to 500.
Incredible work by artist Jason DeCaires Taylor.

Since its beginning, the Cancun Underwater Museum was created to facilitate the preservation of natural coral reefs by doubling as a home for fish and other underwater organisms, drawing visitors away from Cancun’s delicate natural reefs.

Pieces were first submerged in the main body of the museum, “The Silent Evolution” gallery, in 2010. According to Taylor, “the new pieces use a revolutionary form of stainless steel framework and will rely on live planted corals to form the narrative and structure of the works.” Two of the new sculptures include “The Glass Ceiling” and a new “Man on Fire” piece.

Submerged sculptures are mostly molded in pH neutral clay; marine life has slowly moved into the museum area, bringing life to “The Silent Evolution.” With everything from life-size human sculptures, many of which were cast from Cancun locals, to a full VW Beetle that was especially designed for lobsters to make their home inside the vehicle, each statue is made with materials that are safe for marine life and encourage the formation of a coral reef, thus fulfilling the main preservation goal of the museum.

Underwater figures will be covered in marine life.
The Visitors Center features a step by step process of how and why eco-sculptor Taylor created his renowned art. Roberto Diaz Abraham, MUSA President, has high hopes for the center and believes it will be as popular as the museum itself, which welcomes over 87,000 tourists a year.

Divers get a good look at the massive exhibition underwater.
The Visitors Center is located at Kukulkan Plaza in Cancun’s famous hotel zone, making it easily accessible to visitors. Guests who explore the underwater museum can enhance their experience by visiting the center, which can also be an alternative for sea-wary travelers to use should they wish to view Taylor’s art without having to set foot in the ocean.

Plans include another visitors’ center in Isla Mujeres that will showcase original pieces by Taylor and will serve as a venue for visitors to appreciate the museum for not only its art, but its ecological and preservation efforts as well.

Creations are becoming more bold and imaginative.
         Information contributed by Lourdes Perez.
        Photos by Jason DeCaires Taylor 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Get outdoors at Big Bend National Park

Rafting on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park
Spring is the perfect time to visit Big Bend National Park. The weather is neither too hot nor cold and wildflowers color the landscape. Located in the far west corner of Texas, this park is known for its natural landscapes encompassing river, mountain, and desert ecosystems.  If you love exploring outdoors, take your pick from hiking, horseback riding, rafting, jeep touring, or biking in this lightly visited national park.

Ride horses over mountain ridges in the wide open spaces of Big Bend.

Learn more by reading my article on Big Bend in Arizona Highroads  Magazine:

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Visit Arches and Canyonlands in Utah (and other national parks) for free

Formations like this give Arches National Park in Utah its name.
Fee free days are a great time to visit.
Southern Utah is one of the most outstanding geographical regions in our country. Stunning rock formations, powerful rivers and canyons, and beautiful historic locations are accessible in day trips from the bike and hike haven of Moab, Utah. Whether you love physical challenges or just enjoy stunning scenery, I urge you to discover one of our favorite destinations in the world.
For the best views, hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National
 Park near Moab in southern Utah.
While Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are open year round, there’s no better time to visit than January 20, 2014, the first fee free day this year. Be sure to check times at the Visitor Centers, as these vary according to location. It’s early in the year, but that means temperatures for outdoor activities can be milder than during summer heat.

There are plenty of trails to drive or walk in both parks, so whatever works for your fitness level you’ll have many Kodak moments to record and memories to share. A one-day visit can provide an overview of each park, but plan to stay longer, if possible, because there’s so much to admire.

Deep canyons are the hallmark of
Canyonlands National Park in
southern Utah.
In addition to Martin Luther King Day, other fee free days noted by the park service include Presidents’ Day Weekend (February 15-17), the first weekend of National Park Week (April 19-20), National Park Service Birthday (August 25), National Public Lands Day (September 27), and Veterans Day (November 11). Don’t miss these opportunities to visit any national park without paying an entrance fee.
Keep in mind that fees normally required for camping, tours, or special use permits and programs will still be required. If you plan to hike the backcountry of the Canyonland districts, for example, contact Central Reservations in Moab or download backcountry use application form online and fax it in.

Once you’ve reached the magic age of 62, you can purchase a Senior pass for $10, giving you lifetime access to all of America’s national parks. We’ve used ours for years, and it’s positively the best bargain in travel.
For those not yet old enough, you can purchase America the Beautiful Annual Passes for $80 or the Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass for $25. That pass allows you to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Hovenweep and Bridges National Monuments any day for a year. Other parks offer similar discount passes. One pass per car is all you need.
During fee free days, see amazing canyons spread out over
CanyonlandsNational Park in southern Utah.
These parks are national treasures. Make a bucket list of those you haven’t visited and set about marking them off one by one. Fee free days are a great incentive to get started.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hotel Ella in Austin earns accolades

Although updated, Hotel Ella remains an historic mansion.
Austinites who loved the traditional restaurant and inn at the lovely old Mansion at Judge’s Hill might be wary about visiting the newly remodeled hotel and restaurant for the first time. But there are good reasons why the updated and renamed HotelElla was recently touted as Austin’s Hot New Boutique Hotel by Fodor’s. The $5 million renovation, completed in September 2013, has also earned it designation in the collection known as Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Majestic columns remain

Built in 1900 for Dr. Goodall Wooten, son of one of the founders of The University of Texas, and his wife Ella, the elegant, historic, white-columned mansion is still reminiscent of Austin’s grandest era. During the extensive renovation the former inn was transformed into an inviting hotel with 48 rooms and suites, including 10 in the original building and others in an annex surrounding a secluded interior courtyard

Among the amenities added by the  hotel are a lap pool with bar and private cabanas in the courtyard. All rooms feature complimentary Wi-Fi, 24-hour in-room service, twice daily housekeeping, and complimentary transportation within a five mile radius of the hotel. And it’s pet-friendly.
The formerly traditional restaurant has been transformed into an expansive, modern facility called Goodall’s Kitchen & Bar. The restaurant features local ingredients and original cocktails inspired by Dr. Goodall’s long-ago remedies.

The update of Goodall's Kitchen & Bar feels very comfortable.
Outfitted with updated art work and contemporary seating arrangements including long benches along the walls, the restaurant includes menu items like Texas Bruscetta and olive oil peached dewberry chicken breast. For dessert sample peanut butter-banana sorbet or almond cake with fresh berries and basil cream. French toast and omelets at Sunday brunch are favorites of both guests and locals (The restaurant is open to the public).

Clean lines make rooms in the main house classy.
Located just minutes from the central business district and The University of Texas, Hotel Ella occasionally offers special rates on the website, especially when notable sports or other events take place in Austin.
1900 Rio Grande
Austin, Texas 78705

Photos by Beverly Burmeier


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Celebrities British travelers would most like to share their cruises with

Elton John tops the list of entertainers to share a cruise with.

You’re wearing your finest cruise duds and have struck a pose for the adoring paparazzi (really the cruise cameraman). Will your picture hit the headlines in its full glory the next day? As you walk up the red carpet to board the ship, to your delight you discover some of your favorite celebs are also onboard.

What would you like chef Jamie Oliver to prepare for you?
Who did you picture waiting to greet you into their inner circle? Is there a star singer planning to entertain you, sports personality offering to challenge your skills, or a chef looking to create a whole new meal inspired by your excellent tastes?

Court darling Andy Murray might offer a few tennis pointers to
improve your game.
British travel company, Virgin Holidays Cruises, has conducted a survey to find out who their countrymenwould most like to share their cruise with. Many Americans would likely agree with their counterparts from across the ocean. Check out these graphics to see if your favorite celebrities were included.

Cruise goers prefer to leave Justin Bieber at home...enough said.

 Virgin Holidays Cruises works with all the major cruise lines including Carnival, Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Star Clippers, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Fred Olsen, and others. They can help plan your vacation to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Far East, or Alaska.
This article was supported and photos were provided by Virgin Holidays Cruises.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Two great products: keep feet warm and aid sleep when traveling

My adult daughter, who has spent much time in cold climates and traveling to different cities during the past year, has provided her heartfelt endorsements of two products that she considers her best discoveries during 2013. You may also find these items helpful during your travels.

Keep feet toasty warm: “Heat Holders are the warmest socks I have  ever found,” she says. “They can fit into shoes if they are pulled up before slipping on the shoe. So on long hikes these socks keep my feet as warm as a wool sock combined with chemical toe warmers. I like to wear them around the house as well because they can be worn alone. Otherwise, I usually have to wear warm house shoes over my socks inside the house.”

Here’s the story: Heat Holders were invented in 2008 by a British company. Although the company had been working with yarns since 1947, they were on a mission to create the warmest, most comfortable sock possible. Loyal customers like my daughter believe they succeeded.

In addition to black and gray, the socks come in fun colors like fuschia, indigo, pink, purple, and raspberry. You can also choose colorful striped versions. Men’s socks come in eight colors (including red!), and socks for bigger kids come in 12 cheerful colors.

Adult Heat Holders sell for $15.99 per pair, but my daughter says they are worth every penny and hold up well when washed, too. “This is one of the best products I have seen this year," she says.
Order from the website  

Fall asleep easily: “For travel, I never leave home without SleepPhones” my daughter adds.  

SleepPhones are an ingenious invention--comfortable headphones in a soft, padded headband that contains thin removable speakers. You can play any type of music, audiobooks, meditation, or white noise by plugging into any audio device with a standard headphone jack—CD player, iPod, or MP3 player. Nothing sticks into your ears (so there’s nothing to fall out), and there are no bulky earphones to poke side sleepers in the face. The cover is lightweight, washable, and hypoallergenic.  

SleepPhones help block snoring, unfamiliar road sounds, or noisy hotel guests. The headband can double as a sleep mask if pulled down over eyes, and it can be worn with the wire in front or back. There’s even a wireless version for total portability and a version for runners.

The basic version sells for $39.95, and the headband comes in three sizes and three colors. In addition to bedtime, many people use them on airplanes or when engaged in outdoor activities.

“I have a "Sleep Machine" app on my iPhone and use it with the SleepPhones, That helps me fall sleep nearly anywhere," she says.
Photos provided by manufacturers.



Friday, January 3, 2014

Cheap flights from U.S. to South America

Sunset on the Amazon River
Is South America on your travel bucket list? If you’re looking for a real bargain, act quickly to get some of the best airfares you’re likely to see for a long time.
Here’s a sample of budget-friendly fares you can purchase from LAN Airlines this weekend: Fly to Bogota, Colombia or to Caracas, Venezuela for a mere $299.00 round trip, including taxes and fees. Fly to Quito, Peru (want cruise the Amazon?) or Guayaquil, Ecuador (gateway to the Galapagos Islands) for $399.00 round trip. Similarly low fares are available from Miami to other selected South American cities.

 These prices are good if you purchase tickets between January 3-6, 2014. Once at your destination, you may stay anywhere from seven days to two months. Leave and return on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
Terraces of Machu Picchu
Low fares are also offered for departures from Los Angeles or New York—just not quite as rock-bottom. For example, during this special sale you can fly from New York to Guayaquil for $599.00 and from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru (and be on your way to Machu Picchu) for $683.00.

What better way to celebrate the new year than by traveling to one of the featured destinations. Go to or call 866-435-9526 to book a ticket (add $20 for flights booked by phone). I’ve been to South America several times and thoroughly enjoyed each place we’ve visited; travel is also very economical.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What does a cruise really cost?

Part of my preparation for any trip is making out a budget. I include every known cost and allow a generous amount for “miscellaneous” items. As a Virgo, I can be pretty compulsive about keeping track of all expenses.
Celebrity Silhouette cruising the Adriatic Sea
So I’ve come to realize what a good deal cruising can be. Your accommodations, food, and sometimes drinks and shore excursions are included in the price—and you only have to unpack one time. If—like more than 14 million other people, mostly from North America—you’ve decided to try cruising, there are a few things to keep in mind when determining the cost of your cruise beyond what’s posted in the brochure or online.

Meals in the main dining rooms are usually very good.
While some cruise lines include airfare (at least partial), gratuities, and beverage charges in their stated fees, many others do not—although they may have incentive packages that include some of these extra expenses. Just be sure you know what is included and what you can expect as add-ons to your basic fare.

Meals in the main dining room, snack-bars, buffets, and sometimes room service are included in the cost of a cruise. While this is more food (and generally very good) than most of us can/should consume, many cruisers opt to dine in specialty restaurants on board. These can be pricey (upwards of $75 per couple), but their popularity has inspired ships to add more options.

Almost all ships—especially the larger ones--provide an included selection of quality entertainment such as live musicals and production shows or comedy and magic performances. A variety of groups play music throughout the ship for your listening pleasure or dancing the night away. Games, movies, competitions, and classes on board are provided to keep you busy and entertained.

Acrobats perform in the Atrium of a Princess ship.

Nonalcoholic beverages (water, lemonade, tea, and coffee) are included during meals and anytime dining venues are open. If you get really thirsty, pay a one-time fee for a beverage card that entitles you to unlimited soft drinks during your cruise. Alcoholic drinks, including wine and beer, will be additional charges—unless a package was included as an incentive when you booked. Some lines now allow guests to purchase wine in port and bring it to their room, although most will still hold any liquor brought onboard until disembarkation.

Climb the rock wall, a feature of all
Royal Caribbean ships, for exercise.
Exercise facilities, weight room, and fitness machines are available for use in the ship’s gym. Some classes are also free, but others like Yoga or Pilates may set you back an extra $10 or so. Pampering spa and beauty salon services cost extra. Better still, go outside and walk or jog on the track—no charge at all to get some exercise before the next meal time.

If you drive to port, expect to pay for parking. Some cruise lines will pick you up from the airport and bring you to the ship, free of charge, especially if you’ve also booked an add-on hotel stay either before or after the cruise. Others provide pre-arranged transfer services for a fee. Sometimes hotels near a port will allow guests who stay there prior to the cruise to leave their car in the hotel parking area while on the ship.

Although some high-end cruise lines include shore excursions, most provide this option a la carte. Choose when, where, and what you want to do, paying only for excursions that fit your needs. You can purchase excursions arranged by the cruise line online prior to departure or book city sightseeing tours or snorkeling adventures on your own.

Modern ships are visual delights and provide many opportunities
for scanning the landscape.
These days most ships add an automatic minimum gratuity for crew service to your account. You can add to that if someone gives you special service, but don’t expect to ignore the gratuity requirement. Including this charge in the fare is one of the most popular perks offered by cruise lines trying to attract passengers.

Got a bigger budget? Casinos, bingo games, and a variety of shops featuring plenty of special sales entice passengers to spend more. You can keep track of expenses by checking your account daily, either online in your cabin or in person at guest services. If you have onboard credit (another popular package incentive), you’ll know when it has been used up.

Ships are large enough that you won't feel crowded, even
with thousands of passengers on board.
Cruising can be a bargain when you compare the daily cost of what you’d spend for lodging, food, car and gas, and activities on a land-based vacation. Crunch the numbers beforehand, and you can have a wonderful cruise experience without going overboard—financially, that is.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier