Best Food & Wine Getaway — Niagara-on-the-Lake
The kids are happily stuffing themselves on junk food and TV at Grandma and Grandpa’s as my husband Mark and I set out for two chicken-nugget-free nights to ourselves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. There’s no better — or more delicious — place for a quick weekend getaway than this quaint town nestled along the Niagara River, just a short and picturesque drive from the gaudier lights of its Niagara Falls neighbor.
We get into the spirit by stopping at Silversmith Brewing (905-468-8447, silversmithbrewing.com) on the way into town. A beautiful stained-glass window is befitting the ivy-covered building’s former use as a church. We sit at the bar, and Mark has a black lager while I experiment with a flight of beers. We also share an order of raw oysters. It’s a perfect start to our trip.
Niagara-on-the-Lake offers more than 100 bed-and-breakfasts from which to choose. We are lucky enough to score a room on a busy weekend at the Silken Dreams Bed and Breakfast (905-468-7881, silkendreams.ca), run by the husband-and-wife team Don and Melody Legere. Our room is large and airy, with a king-sized bed and a bath fit for a queen. Our hosts are friendly and breakfast — my favorite was the poached pear followed by an orange-infused eggs Benedict — would have been hard to beat at any of the many fine restaurants in town. Rooms start at $140 a night.
We explore downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake at leisure. There are lots of fun shops to poke into, and it’s impossible to resist taking a picture or two — or many more — of the beautiful and colorful flowers that dress up the downtown in irresistible and cheerful color. We pass one of the theaters that is home to the Shaw Festival, the second-largest repertory theater company in North America. When rain threatens, we stop at Corks Winebar & Eatery (289-868-9527, corksniagara.com) for a light lunch, indulging in Bloody Marys and a pound of mussels from our inside chairs overlooking the sidewalk, now full of umbrellas.
That night, we dine at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine (905-934-9797, treadwellcuisine.com), a favorite in town for its food and ambience. We haven’t made reservations, so have about an hour wait. But we’re happy to spend that time at Treadwell’s small waiting station across the way, where we chat with locals and sip local wines.
The wait proves worthwhile. We score bar seats, the most sought-after seats in the restaurant with a direct view of the kitchen staff at work. They goof off with each other and answer questions from observing patrons with patience and a smile — true grace under pressure. We start with the housemade tagliatelle with pulled Ontario rabbit, morel mushrooms and Kozlik’s Triple Crunch Mustard cream. Yum. For an entree, we split the hoison glazed beef short ribs with potato purée, pickled red onion and summer vegetables.
The next morning we wake up with nothing on the agenda. What to do? Wineries, of course.
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s 26 wineries run the gamut from mom-and-pop shops to state-of-the-art buildings that would be at home in Napa Valley. One of our favorites is Stratus Vineyards (905-468-1806, stratuswines.com), which was the world’s first fully LEED-certified winemaking facility when it opened in 2005. The marble tasting counter and soaring sky-high ceilings make the space feel a bit museum-like, but a friendly pourer quickly makes us feel at home. We leave with a $40 bottle of Icewine Red, an assemblage of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, syrah and mourvedre.
After a few tastings, we are ready for lunch. We choose the Old Winery Restaurant (905-468-8900, theoldwineryrestaurant.com), where a wood-burning pizza oven right inside the front door makes our lunch order a no-brainer long before we even see a menu. The pizzas, named for the wine produced in the region, are imaginative and the staff attentive. We choose the Riesling pizza, with a basil almond pesto and topped with artichokes, kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes and feta cheese.
After lunch we stop at Big Head Wines (905-359-3239, bigheadwines.ca), which we wouldn’t have found without a recommendation from our Stratus pourer. It turns out to be one of our favorite spots. A former “virtual” winery, Big Head opened its own facility to the public just this year after making a name for itself with its artisanal, small-batch wines. It turns out it has limited operating hours, and, when we arrive, the winery is supposed to be closed. But we are welcomed in anyway by cellar head Sam Lim, who walks us through a tasting while we sit at a tall table surrounded by wine casks. We like each one we tasted more than the last — and happily load up three bottles to take home. I think I’ll uncork one as a surprise to my husband next time we settle in for a meal of macaroni and cheese with our munchkins.
Best Niagara-on-the-Lake Options
Rather stay in a hotel than a B&B? The Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1864, is a landmark hotel right in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake with 110 guest rooms. Even if you’re not staying there, make sure to stop in for a quick look around or a drink at the bar. The ornate lobby is worth seeing, with its intricate hardwood floors, plush Victorian furniture, a stained-glass mural, beautiful sculptures and plenty of fresh roses. Interesting fact: Queen Elizabeth stayed at the Prince of Wales during a visit in 1973. Rooms start at $320 CAD. (888-669-5566, vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales)
Like to work off your wine? Visit wineries by bicycle by taking a self-guided trip or a tour led by a guide. Two good choices: Grape Escape Wine Tour, with half-day outings starting at $64 CAD (866-935-4445, tourniagarawineries.com), or make a vacation of it with a three-day tour of the Niagara region from Cycle on Adventures, starting at $1,208 CAD (844-483-7884, cycleonadventures.com).
Want to see world-class theater? The Shaw Festival 2015 season continues through November. It’s also not too early to plan a visit for 2016, the Shaw Festival’s 55th season. Some highlights include “The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “A Woman of No Importance.” Tickets for the 2016 season go on sale this fall. For more information and to buy tickets visit gb.shawfest.com.
Need a spot to stop and delay re-entry into the real world as long as possible? If you’re heading through Grand Island, New York, on the way home, try Dick and Jenny’s Bake and Brew, which offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. The restaurant is owned by Dick and Jenny Benz, who relocated to Grand Island from New Orleans after losing their home to Hurricane Katrina. They are true to their roots, with a menu chock-full of New Orleans favorites. Try the jambalaya or the crawfish and andouille savory cheesecake (716-775-5047, dickandjennysny.com).
Best Sundae — Sweet Moses Soda Fountain & Treat Shop’s Terminal Tower
Only four customers have managed to finish this off alone and pick up the small trophy shop owner Jeff Moreau keeps on hand for the occasion. The massive edifice, named after a Cleveland landmark, is constructed of 10 scoops of house-made ice cream — one each of vanilla bean, Belgian chocolate, strawberry, butter pecan, chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, coffee, salted French caramel and bananas Foster — and lavishly topped with hot fudge, warm caramel, marshmallow cream, pecans, sprinkles, whipped cream and cherries. Don’t even try demolishing it on a full stomach. Cleveland, 216-651-2202, sweetmosestreats.com
Best Carrot Cake — Sunflower Café
Co-owner Carol Ann Jacysyn omits the nuts, raisins and pineapple from her carrot cake and bakes it in a Bundt pan. But the unusual version of this classic landed on a “To Eat Before You Die” list published in Canada’s National Post newspaper. Jacysyn says it’s the balance of spices, along with the extraordinarily creamy cream-cheese frosting, that make the dessert so special. The secret to her icing: a little bit of vegetable shortening. “There’s butter in it as well,” she divulges. “But that shortening seems to make the sugar dissolve better.” Selkirk, Ontario, 905-776-1585
Best Mini Golf — Lakeside Chautauqua
Built in 1963, Lakeside’s mini golf course has always been a village favorite. The 18-hole course overlooks Lake Erie and is in the middle of the shady Central Park. But the course got even better this year with a renovation that included six new obstacles: two loop-de-loops, a skee-ball game, a vortex, a “return to me” feature and a pachinko game, where the putter’s ball is dropped through a series of pegs. A replica of Perry’s Monument also was added to the course. More than 600 plants and 40 yards of mulch keep the course looking as beautiful as the rest of Lakeside. Lakeside, Ohio, 866-952-5374, lakesideohio.com
Best Pool — The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake
While it’s true that the Lodge is a great base for exploring area wineries, local beaches and the fun of Geneva’s famous entertainment strip, it’s also tempting to start and end the day at the pool. The 10,000-square-foot outdoor pool complex is perched on the shore of Lake Erie and features an oversized swimming pool, a hot tub, a children’s splash area, a poolside snack bar and a lovely lake breeze. Rain coming in? No problem, just step inside to the glass-enclosed pool that offers even better lake views. Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, 866-806-8066, thelodgeatgeneva.com
Best 5-Course Meal — The Heirloom Restaurant at the Chautauqua Institution
It’s a meal not to be missed. Three times a year, the Heirloom restaurant offers a five- to six-course Farm-to-Table Dinner featuring locally sourced food, wine and spirits. The experience includes presentations by local farmers so guests can learn exactly how the food they are about to eat was cultivated and prepared. The next Farm-to-Table will take place Sept. 19. This two- to three-hour dinner costs $79 to $100 (including tax and gratuity), depending on how many courses are planned. 716-357-4444, athenaeum-hotel.com
Best Hostess Gift — Beach Glass Wine Stoppers
Crystal’s Treasure Box owner Crystal Nevedale likes her Vermilion, Ohio, store to carry items that can’t be found anywhere else. So she created two types of beach glass wine stoppers — one stacked with green, blue and teal glass and embellished with charms ($16), and one that looks like a snowglobe holding sand, glass and Lake Erie’s infamous lucky “stones,” which actually are washed-up ear bones of sheephead fish ($23). Crystal will even customize your stopper for no extra charge. If you’re all about boating, you can add anchor or sailboat charms. Or bring her sand and glass from your vacation, and she’ll craft you a commemorative keepsake. 440-541-7998, facebook.com/evolvingdesignsbyme
Best Wine Time — Ashtabula County, Ohio
Over a dozen wineries are nestled in the Grand River Valley of Ohio’s northeasternmost corner, an area of rolling hills lined with vinifera and French-American hybrid vines that the local convention and visitors bureau likes to compare with Napa Valley. But, unlike the storied California region, work in these vineyards continues after the Lake Erie-lengthened growing season ends: Grapes are left on the vines to freeze, then picked and pressed to make the sweet sipping treat known as ice wine.
The venues for tasting reds, whites and roses range from the usual decks with vineyard views and fireplace-warmed rooms to the South River Vineyard’s century-old converted church in Geneva. (You can walk through the vineyards to the neighboring Red Eagle Bourbon Distillery.) Debonne Vineyards in Madison — the largest estate winery in Ohio — operates an onsite microbrewery, while locations such as Ferrante Winery in Geneva and Grand River Cellars in Madison run restaurants with full lunch and dinner menus. (Old Mill Winery in Geneva and Old Firehouse Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake cater to diners in their respective namesake historic structures.) Buccia Vineyards in Conneaut even has a bed-and-breakfast. The four rooms, each with their own hot tub, private bath and patio, eliminate the need to drive after an afternoon of fine wining. 800-337-6746, visitashtabulacounty.com
Best Contemporary Jeweler — Bonnie Beyer
Beyer has distinguished herself by fashioning pendants, necklaces and earrings from steel Swedish horseshoeing nails. She began experimenting with the unconventional medium 40 years ago while she was still a Fredonia, New York, kindergarten teacher selling her handcrafted jewelry at weekend craft shows. “They have a very nice patina to them,” she explains. “The shape of them is wonderful — very Nordic-looking, very straight.” Over the last decade, her repertoire has expanded to include dimensional copper, brass and silver pieces inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright-style architecture of Scottsdale, Arizona, where she winters with husband Warren. The entire collection is available the third week of May through the third week of September at The Art Loft, the couple’s lumber mill-turned-gallery in Mayville, New York. 716-753-5638, bonniebeyer.com.
Best Restaurant on a River — Merwin’s Wharf
Cleveland Metroparks’ first full-service, stand-alone restaurant, located on the East Bank of the city’s Flats entertainment district in Rivergate Park, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows framing leafy views of the Cuyahoga River and a 3,000-square-foot landscaped patio complete with fire pit and bicycles for rent. “It’s a really neat place to sit down and watch Cleveland go by,” enthuses Jarrod McCarthy, the park district’s senior manager of enterprise operations. The eatery’s Sunday brunch is particularly popular. The updated, a la carte menu includes Southern-style shrimp and grits; a breakfast sandwich built with three eggs over easy, pork belly, cheddar cheese and malt mayo; and the must-have crème brulee French toast. 216- 664-5696, merwinswharf.com.
Best Pet: Saucy, the Pig
Upon buying his first pig three years ago, Villa Nova Estate Winery’s vineyard manager Chris Whitney broke the cardinal rule of owning livestock: never, ever, name your farm animals. Why? Because you'll never want to eat them. Now, instead of bacon, Whitney has a trusty companion in Saucy, a heritage-breed Tamworth weighing in at nearly 500 pounds.
“She is really quirky and fun to be around,” says Whitney. “You can squeal at her and she’ll do it back. She shows love and appreciates getting love back.”
Saucy, who inspired the name of the winery’s hard apple and peach cider, earns her keep by helping around the vineyard. Tamworth pigs are known for their foraging skills, which is well-suited for clearing brush around the grape vines to help promote good airflow. “She goes through and chews up any rotten trees and saplings,” says Whitney. “We could use a chainsaw, but she does a great job.”
She is rewarded with buckets full of table scraps, grape skins leftover from wine production and apples and peaches from making cider. “I will sometimes pour part of a flat bottle of Saucy Cider on top of her food,” says Whitney, “but normally it’s way too delicious to give to an animal.”
Visit Saucy at Villa Nova Estate Winery on the eastern edge of Norfolk County. While you’re there, try the Saucy Cider and take a hike on one of three vineyard trails on the property. Simcoe, Ontario, 519-443-8787, villanovaestatewinery.ca
Art: supplied by Chris Whitney
Best Regularly Scheduled Summer Fireworks — Niagara Falls
Americans are accustomed to Independence Day fireworks displays, but Niagara Falls keeps the bombs bursting in air twice a week between May and September. Hosted by Niagara Parks, the 10-minute firework display takes place at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Sunday, plus holidays. There are plenty of places from which to see the pyrotechnics, but we recommend Queen Victoria Park, Rainbow Bridge or Prospect Point on the U.S. side. Niagara Falls, Ontario, niagaraparks.com
Best Poutine — Frenchy’s Poutinery
If poutine isn’t Canada’s national dish, it should be, says Yerv Lakhoian, who works at Frenchy’s Poutinery in Windsor, Ontario. Traditionally made with French fries topped with fresh cheese curds and a brown gravy sauce, the comfort food was born in the province of Quebec sometime in the 1950s. The popularity of poutine since has spread across the country and it’s now a staple item on menus from McDonald’s to gourmet restaurants to small independent poutineries, such as Frenchy’s. “We hand-cut our fries and make our own gravy,” Lakhoian says. “But the Quebec cheese curds make all the difference.” Start with the classic dish for $5, then customize it with a variety of toppings. “The more you add, the better it is,” Lakhoian adds. The pulled pork poutine, in particular, is a perennial favorite. 519-915-6720
Best Canoe Trip — Point Pelee
Point Pelee holds the distinction of being mainland Canada’s most southernmost tip, but there’s more to the national park than just the sandy spit that disappears into Lake Erie. In fact, the majority of the 6-square-mile park is made up of freshwater marshes that harbor frogs, turtles and snakes, plus migrating butterflies and birds.
While the observation tower at the Marsh Boardwalk provides a good overview of the park, paddling among the cattails and lily pads gets you to places you couldn’t otherwise reach. The Friends of Point Pelee rents kayaks and canoes daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from June to September. The cost is $17 for the first hour, then $9 each additional hour.
Want a more in-depth tour with a knowledgeable interpretive guide? The park offers a 10-person Freighter Canoe Tour twice daily during the week that costs $7.30 CAD per person or $20 CAD for a family of four. Point Pelee, Ontario, 888-773-8888, pc.gc.ca
Best Place to Get Hooked on Fishing — The Grand River
Not only is the Grand River the largest Great Lakes tributary in southern Ontario, it’s also becoming known as one of the best places to catch wild steelhead. While it’s a favorite spot among seasoned fishing enthusiasts, it’s a good place for beginners to get their feet wet, too. For those looking for instruction, Baer Fishing Adventures, based in Simcoe, Ontario, offers learn-to-fish lessons that cover the basic techniques and equipment needed to land a big one, before getting wannabe anglers out on the scenic river. “The Grand River is definitely my favorite place for the class,” says Barna Robinson, “but it is much more challenging to actually catch a fish than in a pond.” Participants are encouraged to wade into the river to get a better chance of catching a fish. “It is a more authentic fishing experience,” says Robinson. “Guests feel as though they are on an adventure.” Prices range from $80 to $150, depending on the group size. Paris, Ontario, 519-718-8113, baerfishingadventures.com
Best Organic Breakfast — The Sunflower Organic Cafe
For co-owner Tara Lecker, The Sunflower Organic Cafe is the epitome of Hippocrates’ “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Not only is the café 100 percent organic, the menu caters to as many dietary restrictions as possible. Patrons are encouraged to express their concerns, and the kitchen will work within those guidelines. Gluten-free? No problem. Fair trade coffee? Of course. Enjoy an omelet made with free-range breakfast sausage and cheddar cheese. Or try the vegan sweet potato pancakes. They’re so good you’ll forget they’re good for you. Windsor, Ontario, 519-915-8898, sunflowerwindsor.com
Best Place to See Hitchcock: The Redford Theatre
Built in the late 1920s when movie-going was a major event, the Redford Theatre has remained in continuous operation, escaping the fate of other large movie palaces that shuttered when audiences dwindled with the advent of television. Now operated by The Motor City Theatre Organ Society and its dedicated members and volunteers, the theater shows classic movies from Hitchcock to Tarantino on the big screen.
Instead of seeing a rotation of advertisements, those who arrive early are treated to a 30-minute performance on the Barton organ, which includes a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with a giant flag backdrop behind the curtain.
Hitchcock fans will get quite a thrill during the Alfred Hitchcock Weekend held Oct. 16 to 18. In addition to screenings of “The Birds” and “Marnie,” the films’ star Tippi Hedren will make appearances. For $50, you can attend a special meet-and-greet event with the actress that includes dessert, an autograph and admission to the two films. Regular admission prices range from $5 to $7. Detroit, Michigan, 313-283-0225 redfordtheatre.com
Best Weird Run: Jog ‘n’ Hog
There are a lot of fun road races out there these days — you can get doused in color, muddy from head to toe or dress up like a zombie — but one of the oddest is the Stanganelli’s Pepperoni Ball Jog ‘n’ Hog in Erie, Pennsylvania. The real challenge is to eat six pepperoni balls along the way (with a total weight of 1.5 pounds) during this 4-mile race along the beaches on Presque Isle State Park. Don’t know what a pepperoni ball is? This golf-ball sized Erie delicacy is made up of slices of pepperoni encased in a deep-fried dough. Winners get a Golden Pig trophy. Losers get sick. jognhog.com
Best Invention: The Robot Fish
It started out as an outreach project about nine years ago to get school-aged children excited about science. But the robot fish developed by Xiaobo Tan and other researchers is now being used to monitor water quality and detect toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie.
“As we were developing it, one of us would say, ‘Oh, this would be great for this, this would be great for that,” says Tan, an assistant professor of engineering at Michigan State University. “We started to take notes.”
The robot fish, named Grace, is about a meter long and weighs about 30 pounds. “It’s not small,” Tan says, “but one person can carry it.”
Carbon fiber layers make up the fish’s “skin,” with an aluminum tail driven by a motor powered by rechargeable batteries. The fish can glide through the water without propulsion, resting the batteries.
The fish, which cost about $300,000, has been tested in rivers around Michigan, but if all goes well, it will be swimming in Lake Erie this year.
Best Muralist: Beth Sage
Beth Sage’s first mural was her senior project at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School in Fremont, Ohio. Artistry continued to be her hobby — until it became her job. “A woman in Cleveland hired me to paint her office, and it just kind of snowballed from there,” says Sage, who now lives in Huron, Ohio.
Sage spends her time traveling and painting murals, including homes, stores, hotels — and more than 100 schools. Her images usually spring from her own creativity. “Sometimes, people have an idea,” she says. “But most of the time, they say, ‘We’ve seen your work, what do you see here?’” Sagebrush Artistry, bethsageart.com
Best Officially Sanctioned Graffiti: Dequindre Cut
Located along a 1.2-mile stretch of below-street level, abandoned rail line, the Dequindre Cut Greenway is a multi-use trail for pedestrians and cyclists that stretches from the Detroit riverfront to Eastern Market. As you get some exercise, you’ll have plenty of eye candy to enjoy in the form of giant murals. While the area has always been a hotspot for illegal tagging, officially sanctioned graffiti artists have created stunning works of art as the result of a partnership between the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit and the College for Creative Studies’ community+public arts DETROIT initiative.
Best Sauce: Sloopy’s Sports Cafe
Since its 1995 opening in Lakeside, Ohio, Sloopy’s has racked up awards for pizza, powered by what they call their “perfetto” sauce. The sauce was developed by original owner Mike Speck, and current owner Brad Corbin had no urge to mess with perfection (literally: “perfetto” is Italian for perfect). “We use the same recipe,” he says. “It’s the power behind our pizza.” Corbin said the secret to the sauce — sweeter than typical pizza sauce — is tomatoes canned within about three hours of being picked. And if you can’t make it to Lakeside, no worries. The shop sells sauce by the jar – and has opened a second location in Port Clinton, with more planned. 419-798-4457, sloopyspizza.com
Best Place for a Wave: Waldameer Park & Water World
Catch a 4-foot swell on a hot summer day at Waldameer, which opened a giant new wave pool this spring. Waldameer is a charming, 119-year-old amusement park in Erie, Pennsylvania, near Presque Isle State Park’s entrance. The new wave pool has a capacity of 1,000 people and is the largest of its kind in the region. It takes up 4 acres, and includes seating on 1,000 new lounge chairs. The wave pool’s construction was the first part of a five-year, $25 million expansion. 814-838-3591, waldameer.com
Best Barbecue: Smoke on the Water
When it comes to restaurants, Kevin Richert is to the manner born. His family owns Torches in Buffalo, but he was looking for something with a different vibe. In 2012, he and his wife, Lindsay, opened Smoke on the Water, a barbecue joint on Ellicott Creek, an inlet off the Niagara River. They buy their meat locally and smoke it themselves, and try to offer their own spin on traditional barbecue. There’s pulled pork and baby back ribs, but Richert says their signature dish is the pork belly taco, braised in cherry juice and ginger ale and then sliced. “You’ve definitely never had it anywhere else,” he says. Tonawanda, New York, 716-692-4227, sotw77.com
Best Confectioner: Wendy Kromer
She’s lived and worked in New York, Tokyo and Paris, but, for Wendy Kromer, the pull of home in Sandusky, Ohio, was too much to resist. “I lived in big cities for 20 years,” she says from her office/kitchen at Wendy Kromer Confections, which is within sight of Lake Erie in downtown Sandusky. “This is the only place I ever called home.”
Kromer, who worked as a model and remains a contributing editor for Martha Stewart Living, returned to her hometown in 2004 — in fact, she lives in the house where she grew up — and puts her culinary training to work making everything from 5-foot-tall wedding cakes to decorated sugar cookies.
Kromer likes to use the Lambeth style of piping, ornate scrollwork that was common a century ago. She makes cakes for weddings from Cleveland to Toledo, and draws a lot of business from people who, like her, are coming home for a wedding — or want to have a destination wedding on the beach. “I’ve found I love it, and I’m good at it,” she says. 419-609-0450, wendykromer.com
Best Remodel: The Hotel Breakers
For 110 years, the Hotel Breakers has hosted guests at Cedar Point — from vacationing families to six presidents. The two-year renovation was completed in time for the summer rush (the hotel still smells new) and is a balancing act between adhering to tradition while offering the most modern amenities. Here are a few things to look for:
1. Fewer rooms. The Bon-Air wing of the hotel, which dated to the 1920s, was torn down. But the renovation also includes reopening rooms in the rotunda, which offers breathtaking views of the beach, but wasn’t open to guests because it lacked private baths (it was used for a while as worker residences). “We had these gorgeous views, but we couldn’t use the rooms before,” says Cedar Point spokesman Bryan Edwards. All told, there are 511 rooms. There used to be 650.
2. Modern creature comforts. All the rooms have flat-screen televisions and free Wi-Fi. The alarm clocks are iHomes, for docking Apple devices, and there are more outlets and USB ports. “Even on vacation, people want to stay connected,” Edwards says There’s also a new fitness room.
3. New décor. The hotel rooms are decorated in a beach cottage theme, with brightly colored red and blue tables and bedspreads, and blue carpet with a pattern that simulates waves at the beach. And the hotel is embracing the history of the amusement park as well, with carousel horses in the lobby and pictures of various rides on the headboards of beds.
4. A new landside entrance. Once upon a time, many of the hotel’s guests came by boat, or strolled up the boardwalk from Cedar Point. Edwards says the beach side of the hotel is the “million-dollar view,” and it’s hard to argue. But with a new grand entrance from the road, including a large port-cochere, the park side is looking pretty good now, too.
5. Return of an old favorite. The ground-level floor includes a variety of shops and restaurants — including the new-but-not-really Surf Lounge. The lounge, known to generations of Breakers visitors, is back and offers casual food and drinks. It’s adjacent to the new fire pits just outside the beachside entrance. There is also a new zero-depth entry children’s pool. “Bringing back some of the past is important to us and our guests,” Edwards says.
Biggest Dog: Lucky Louie’s Wieners
The Moby Dick is a whale of a wienie. This whopper weighs in at 7 pounds and includes six pierogies, four fried eggs, 2 pounds of ring bologna, one block of cream cheese, sauerkraut, onions, ketchup, Greek sauce and Frank’s Red Hot. The cost? $60. It’s all nestled in one loaf of Italian bread. If you complete it, you get a T-shirt. Even if you don’t, you get the free side of Tums. Lucky Louie’s owner asks that you give 24 hours’ notice if you plan on trying to slay this white whale. Erie, Pennsylvania, 814-314-9481, eriebeerandwieners.com
Best Brunch: Fountain Bistro
Fountain Bistro has all the charm of a European sidewalk café transplanted into the middle of Campus Martius Park, the 2.5-acre public square in the heart of Detroit, where all the city’s major avenues meet. With the water of Woodward Fountain dancing right outside its floor-to-ceiling windows, the restaurant serves up a mean weekend brunch with a side of people-watching all year long. The menu includes delicious twists on breakfast classics, such as French toast with a choice of gourmet toppings, whether it’s vanilla custard and fresh berries ($11) or bacon peanut butter banana ($12). Oh, and $10 bottomless mimosas aren’t too shabby, either. 313-237-7778, fountainbistro.com
Art by LWB here https://www.dropbox.com/s/a8ux31w9k1annip/Fountain%20Bistro.zip?dl=0
Best Class Six Rapid: the Niagara River
Niagara Jet Adventures made history when the boat tour company successfully navigated its vessels from the mouth of the lower Niagara River in Youngstown, New York, all the way to the base of Niagara Falls. Until that time, the class six rapids along the way had been considered impossible to navigate. The tour company runs 60-minute boat tours through the Class 5 white water of Devil’s Hole and the Whirlpool, but it hopes to launch tours through the upper set of rapids within the year. 716-745-7121, niagarajet.com
Art courtesy of Niagara Jet Adventures:
Best Family Time: Toledo, Ohio
Claire is fascinated by all things history and Ben has been begging to visit the zoo since his school trip. All the while, Dad is just itching for a break from the office to spend some time in the great outdoors. Mom is up for anything that involves the family spending time together. So, she plans a trip to western Ohio and the city of Toledo for a getaway that everyone will enjoy. Here are 11 steps to make it memorable.
1. Pick a cozy and activity-filled destination — Maumee Bay Lodge & Conference Center. Located directly on the Maumee Bay State Park grounds, your family can choose to stay in a room in the lodge or venture out to one of the cottages located throughout the park. With both two- and four-bedroom cottages available, the family can both enjoy the amenities of modern life (some even include hot tubs) and easily step outside the front door into the middle of nature. 800-282-7275, maumeebaystateparklodge.com
2. After settling into the lodge, take a 20-minute trip to downtown Toledo to sit back, relax and catch a Mud Hens baseball game. The whole family will appreciate the downtown view while snacking on Toft’s ice cream from Ohio’s oldest dairy, and pizza and Italian sausage from Mudzarella’s Little Italy. 419-725-4367, milb.com
3. With a big day planned, make sure to start out with a hearty breakfast at the lodge’s Water’s Edge Restaurant. Mom can get her choice of omelet and the kids will love the delicious fresh-baked cinnamon rolls while looking out at Lake Erie.
4. Get an early start and head out to the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium, which was voted the best zoo in the nation in 2014 by USA Today, Be sure to check out the 1,500 fish in the 90,000-gallon tank in the newly renovated aquarium. Stop at the touch tanks for the chance to stroke sharks and stingrays. 419-385-4040, toledozoo.org
5. Head back to Maumee Bay to take a break in the pool and make a quick stop to learn about the history and nature of the area at the Trautman Nature Center next to the lodge. The kids can even hold the Eastern Fox snake, native to five counties around the western part of the lake. 419-836-9117, maumeebaystateparklodge.com
6. The next stop on your tour of Toledo has to be Imagination Station, an interactive science center. Claire will enjoy becoming a human yoyo as she propels herself 13 feet into the air using her own strength at the BOYO exhibit. Dad is always up for a good show and will love the science presentations, while Ben can look down on the rest of the family as he rides over their heads on the high wire cycle. 419-244-2674, imaginationstationtoledo.org
7. Although your family is partial to Lake Erie, that does not mean you can’t appreciate what the other lakes have to offer. The next must-see is the newly opened National Museum of the Great Lakes. Learn about the famous Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck, featuring a lifeboat from the original vessel, and visit the galleries on industry and marine technology. Then race next door to explore the S.S. Col. James M. Schoonmaker museum ship, once the largest freighter on the lakes, and see the living quarters and two ship’s wheels. 419-214-5000, inlandseas.org
8. By now, the crew has to be getting hungry, so take a trip to the docks and visit the Real Seafood Co. Mom won’t be able to get enough of the view of the Maumee River in this bright, yet intimate restaurant. The kids can enjoy fried Gulf shrimp while Dad can feast on South African cold-water lobster tail. 888-456-3463, realseafoodcotoledo.com
9. Return to Maumee Bay for s’mores by the campfire and a good night’s sleep.
10. Take it easy on your last day and enjoy all that Maumee Bay State Park has to offer. Dad can get in a quick nine holes at one of the country’s best golf courses while the rest of the family can rent bikes to ride throughout the 1,336-acre park. Meet back up at the beach before checking out of the lodge.
11. One last stop before heading back home — the Toledo Museum of Art. The kids will be fascinated by the green face and hieroglyphic inscriptions on the Coffin of Ta-mit, which dates back to 600-550 BCE. The museum also lives up to Toledo’s nickname of the Glass City, as it features one of the best collections in the world and offers daily glass-blowing demonstrations. 419-255-8000, toledomuseum.org