While there are many spots around the world that transform into winter wonderlands during the holidays, the Midwest is home to one of the United State’s most beloved annual holiday traditions – the Plaza lights in Kansas City.
Dating back to 1925 when a single strand of lights was hung at the nation’s first suburban shopping district, the Kansas City Plaza lights have grown into a magical display that is now known worldwide for its beauty and grandeur.
Beginning on Thanksgiving, when the lights are illuminated in a huge lighting ceremony complete with fireworks, the Plaza lights shine brightly through mid-January. Each night beginning around 4:30 the 15-block shopping district is filled with festive, twinkling lights. Stores stay open late during the season and the shops are decked out with dazzling window displays.
Visiting during the Plaza lights season is also one of our favorite times for a stop in Kansas City, having done so numerous times over the past decades. While planning our December calendar this year, we discovered some available time between Cabo and Cuba, and happily scheduled a Kansas City Plaza lights visit.
Having stayed at the Intercontinental since it was the Alameda Plaza in the 70s, it is always our hotel of choice when visiting Kansas City. Conveniently located across from the Plaza, the hotel has a great staff, large stately rooms and stunning views of the Plaza lights.
The clip clop of the horses pulling carriages, the sound of laughter as friends headed for drinks and dinners, the wide eyes of children as they marvel at the magic of it all, and, of course, the shoppers as they bustle from store to store – it’s as if a holiday card has come to life.
The Plaza is a beautiful setting for a beautiful season. Happy holidays!
Disclosure: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
While visiting the Mille Lacs Lake area, we stopped by the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post to learn more about the history of the area and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, who are believed to have settled in region in the 1700s.
A combination of beautiful exhibits, interactive displays, learning stations and educational information, the museum provides a view into the history and lives of the Ojibwe people and, next door, the Trading Post sells handcrafted American Indian arts and crafts.
History of the museum
Built in 1996, the museum is one of 26 Minnesota Historical Society sites and museums and is located on the southwest shore of Mille Lacs Lake near Onamia, Minnesota.
The museum resides on the former property of Harry and Jeanette Ayers who began renting cabins on the grounds in the early 1920s. By the late 1930s, the Ayers were running a full resort business with cabins, boats, a trading post, gas station, and even a boat factory and maple syrup refinery.
Avid collectors of American Indian artifacts, art and memorabilia, the Ayers amassed a vast collection over their years of procuring items for the Trading Post. In 1959, they donated their collection, the buildings and the land to the Minnesota Historical Society.
The donated buildings and collections served as the museum until 1996, when the current building was built as result of a partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Visiting the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Visitors to the museum are treated to a wide variety of displays and exhibits, including hands-on activities for children.
Exploring the spacious 22,810-square-foot museum, visitors learn the story of the Ojibwe people, from what their lives were like when they settled in the area to present day culture.
Many exhibits incorporate both the Ojibwe language and English in their descriptions and provide a glimpse into life on the reservation. We were fortunate to tour the museum with Travis Zimmerman, a descendant of the Ojibwe who is Site Manager of the museum.
Popular for school field trips, Travis pointed out that the museum provides a wide view of Indian history, accentuating the similarities, not the differences, in the tribes, customs, foods, music, and games.
The jewel of the museum, the Four Seasons Room contains beautifully designed dioramas with life-size figures that depict the life of Ojibwe people throughout the changing seasonal activities.
From depictions of harvesting wild rice in the autumn to making maple syrup to hunting and berry picking, the exhibits are exceptional.
While the dioramas date back to 1964 in the previous version of the museum, the life-sized mannequins were added in 1972.
Travis explained that casts of actual tribe members were used to create the figures. Imagine how amazing it must be for the children and grandchildren of those members when they visit the museum to see depictions of their parents and grandparents from decades before.
The Trading Post
The Trading Post is located next to the museum and offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and crafts from tribes across North America.
Home to an amazing assortment of artists’ works, the Trading Post’s items include beads, books, blankets, moccasins, birch bark products, paintings, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, dream catchers, and more.
In addition to the items for sale, an exhibit area can be found just inside the entrance with historical items from the Trading Post and those who have visited over nearly a century.
Know before you go
The museum and trading post are located at 43411 Oodena Dr., Onamia, MN 56359
I must confess – when we walked into Eddy’s Resort, it was nothing like what I expected. As we toured the state of Minnesota with Explore Minnesota and arrived at beautiful Lake Mille Lacs, I expected a hotel styled in rustic tones and decorated with fishing memorabilia. Instead, we were greeted by a roaring fire in a red-tiled fireplace, a lobby with boutique-hotel panache, and an eclectic mix of colors and designs.
Fresh off of a huge renovation, Eddy’s Resort has molded its rich history that dates back to 1960 into a fun, warm and inviting resort with a definite cool factor. Huge Jenga games loom on industrial-style tables in the lobby. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood salvaged from the original buildings on the property prior to the remodel. Contemporary metal chairs with bright red fabric are blended with plaid touches and stripes. And, those sitting in those comfortable seating arrangements are treated to amazing lakeside views.
The rooms & suites
The comfortable, stylish design is continued throughout the guest rooms and suites, with splashes of red co-mingling with plaids and industrial accents. Our suite was quite large with a couch, coffee table, flat screen television, desk, coffee pot, mini-fridge, and a microwave. The king-sized bed was outfitted with crisp, white linens, comfy pillows, and good-sized night stands. The bath was spacious, with a free-standing shower, tub, and a long granite vanity.
Rooms on the first floor have walk-out patios, while second and third-floor rooms have walk-out balconies. Our third-floor, lakeside room delivered breathtaking views of the lake.
Dining & beverages at the Launch Bar & Grill
We spent our evening at Eddy’s enjoying dinner and drinks at the Launch Bar & Grill, while watching the lake shimmering lake colors change as the sun as it disappeared for the day.
Starting with cocktails and a tasty Thai Chili Hummus that packed a little punch, we then moved on to awesome walleye sandwiches. The food was great, the service excellent, the atmosphere fun, and the views spectacular.
Things to do at and near the resort
While the hotel has a modern, urban look and feel, one step out the door and you are once again immersed in the natural beauty of the area. A great place for enjoying drinks and conversation, a large patio and fire pit are located just outside the restaurant and bar.
For those wanting to get in a bit of fishing or simply explore the lake by boat, Eddy’s offers launch trips and boat charters. Never fished before? No problem. For first timers, Eddy’s holds a fishing class on Saturdays that is free to hotel guests.
The hotel also has a fitness room on site, a free coffee bar in the lobby, and for some family fun time, a selection of games are available to check out.
For those looking to try their hand at some games of chance, the Grand Casino Mille Lacs is just down the road.
Location: 41334 Shakopee Lake Rd, Onamia, MN 56359
Design: Contemporary eclectic
Rooms: 64 rooms and suites, 1 parlor suite, 4 cabins
Additional services and amenities: restaurant, bar, launch services, fitness center, games
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Eddy’s Resort for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As we continued on our journey around Minnesota with Explore Minnesota, we discovered an outdoor paradise in central Minnesota, a beautiful region just a couple of hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul: Brainerd Lakes! The region has luxury resorts, gorgeous golf courses, fine dining, spas, and an abundance of activities and fun things to do, from zip lining to yacht cruises to amusement parks. And, watching a spectacular Minnesota sunset is a truly amazing way to end the day in Brainerd Lakes.
The Brainerd Lakes area is located in the center of Minnesota and home to multiple cities and several countries. With over 500 lakes and rivers, including beautiful Gull Lake, it’s no wonder that the Brainerd Lakes region is so widely known as a premier vacation destination.
Things to do when exploring Brainerd Lakes
While the list of things to do in Brainerd Lakes is long, there are a few adventures that are “must do” activities and attractions when visiting the area.
Our cruise aboard Destiny Cruises’ luxury yacht was one of the highlights of our time spent exploring Minnesota.
A relaxing afternoon enjoying delicious food and beverages while gazing at the shimmering, blue waters of Gull Lake, it was the perfect way to explore Gull Lake and view the beautiful coastline. The Destiny Cruises crew is fun and provide excellent service, delivering an authentic Minnesota welcome aboard their beautiful boat. While we experienced a lunch cruise, Destiny Cruises also offers happy hour, dinner, brunch and sunset cruises, as well as private charters.
Once you’ve seen Brainerd Lakes from the water, you need to see it from the air.
Ziplining at Brainerd Zip Line Tour is exciting, fun and offers some of the most amazing views you’ll find in the Brainerd Lakes area. With 7 zip lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump, Brainerd Zip Line Tour will have you soaring at top speeds over the trees at Mount Ski Gull, while taking in spectacular, panoramas of Agate Lake and Gull Lake.
Spend a day playing at a lake
Celebrate the natural beauty found in the state of 10,000 lakes with a day of water activities and family fun. Whatever your water sports preference may be – boating, paddleboarding, snorkeling, tubing, water skiing, fishing, canoeing or simply floating on a raft – the crystal clear waters of the Brainerd Lakes region is the place to play on the water.
Hit the links
Nationally recognized by leading golf publications as a top golfing destination, the Brainerd Lakes area is home to courses that are nestled amidst tall trees and set against a backdrop of stunning lakeside landscapes. Emerald greens and fairways, resorts with vast amenities, and a variety of courses playable by all skill levels attract golfers from across the nation to this section of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake is home to four courses, including Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course and the top-rated Classics course.
No visit to the Brainerd Lakes area is complete without a visit to see and talk to the legend himself, Paul Bunyan. Greeted by the giant Babe the Blue Ox in the parking lot, a visit to Paul Bunyan Land offers a full day of family fun with 40 amusement rides and attractions, Paul’s petting barn, The Pioneer Village, and of course, the famous 26 foot tall lumberjack with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, that greets you by name as you enter.
Where to stay at Brainerd Lakes
With accommodation options in the Brainerd Lakes area ranging from campgrounds to luxury resorts, there’s a perfect place to stay for every taste and budget. A fabulous choice for the utmost in relaxation and amenities is Madden’s on Gull Lake. From time on the fairway to luxuriating at the spa, to enjoying fine dining, Madden’s is the spot for enjoying all that Minnesota has to offer in peaceful, laid-back luxury.
Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota is approximately 200 miles north of Minneapolis-St Paul in central Minnesota.
Summer temperatures (June-August) in the Brainerd Lakes area range from 76°F to 80°F, with average lows between 52°F to 57°F. January is the coldest month of the year, with average daytime highs of 20°F and average lows of -4°F.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Explore Brainerd Lakes for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Ready for some high-flying fun in the Brainerd Lakes area? Head over to Brainerd Zip Line at Mount Ski Gull for a few hours of soaring over the treetops while enjoying spectacular views of Gull Lake!
We’d wanted to try ziplining for years, so when Explore Minnesota presented the opportunity to try out the newly built zip line course presented itself, we were all in – and it was a blast!
After signing waivers, we headed out to gear up. Gear is provided by Brainerd Zip Line Tour and includes harnesses, gloves, and a helmet.
After getting into our harnesses and helmets, we selected gloves, which are for braking along the line. Ready to go, we boarded a van and headed to the training course.
Each group has two guides – ours were Hollie and Amanda, who were professional and, it was obvious throughout our adventure, they had been well-trained to have our safety in mind.
Hollie and Amanda helped us gear up and taught us ziplining basics at a training course site. Once we were trained, they sent and caught us, as we moved from tower to tower along the zip line course.
They also were a lot of fun and shared facts about the area and the course throughout the experience.
For anyone that would have any anxiety before ziplining, the training course sets those fears to rest. Amanda and Hollie first explained the basics, like how to hold on and how to brake, and answered any of our questions. Amanda then demonstrated how to zip line.
Next up, we each gave it a try. Low to the ground, the training zip line gives everyone a chance to try out their new skills before encountering heights. Amanda and Hollie took time to make sure everyone was comfortable before moving on.
Training completed, we walked a short distance to the zip lines. Arriving at the course, we climbed up a five-story flight of stairs to the first tower. The reward for the climb – aside from getting to begin your zip line adventure – are the views. From the tower, you can see for miles across Agate Lake and Gull Lake.
Let’s go ziplining!
The Brainerd Zip Line Tour course consists of 7 lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump. Everyone is clipped in during the experience – even while waiting on the towers. Getting things started, Hollie went first to be on the receiving end tower at the end of the line. From there, she guided us as we approached on when to begin braking and was there to catch us and assist with our landing.
Now it was our turn. Amanda secured us, communicated with Hollie on the other side via radio, and when we were clear – away we went! As with repelling when rock climbing, the first step off is the most difficult and then, it is just a blast.
So, what’s it like zipping along above the trees? Check it out…
Navigating the suspension bridge
In addition to the seven zip lines, the Brainerd Zip Line Tour includes a trek across a 65-foot long suspension bridge. Even though it sounds easy, the boards get further apart near the uphill finish, making it a bit challenging – although I did manage to pose for a photo opp…
A 50-foot free fall finale
As our zip line adventure drew to a close, there was just one more thing to do – the optional 50 foot free fall jump!
After arriving at the last tower, there are two ways down. Walk down the stairs or opt for a 50-foot free fall finale. Of course, we jumped. Not a bungee jump, it’s a controlled free fall and a great way to end a fabulous zip line adventure!
Know before you go
Dress for the adventure. Unless lightning or high winds are present, zip line tours are conducted regardless of weather conditions, including rain and snow. Given you will be zipping through the air above the tree line, dress appropriately. Additionally, closed toe and heel shoes and shirts are required. Long pants are recommended because the safety harness straps can irritate your skin. Hair should be tied back.
Mosquito repellent. Even though you don’t think about mosquitos when soaring above the trees, in the training area there were mosquitos, so put on some repellant before going to the mountain.
Age and weight restrictions. Brainerd Zip Line Tour participants must be between 70 and 250 pounds and 10 years old or older.
Photography. While we were allowed to bring our cameras during the experience for this article, guests are not allowed to bring cameras with the exception of a GoPro (which we also used) with a helmet mount, which Brainerd Zip Lines provides. If you do not have a GoPro, Brainerd Zip Lines rents units for $20.
Time. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your reserved time and allow 2 to 2/12 hours for your zip line adventure.
Wait until after your adventure for a beer.
Reservations are recommended. Find out more and reserve your spot for a Brainerd Zip Line Tour on their website.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Brainerd Zip Line Tour for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Do you remember the I ♥ New York marketing campaign? It was all the rage with the t-shirts and billboards back in the late 70s and early 80s. I’ll confess, I’ve never loved New York and all told, neither of us has ever really even liked it much. There’s just something about New York that never clicked for us. It’s not the size – we love Chicago, Paris, Rome, and other large cities. It’s not the tourists and crowds. We’ve done Venice in the summer and still managed to love it. And, it’s not for a lack of visits – we’ve been to the Big Apple many times over the years.
So, what were we missing? I’ll admit, the issue bothered me a bit. So, we decided we needed to give the Big Apple another chance and booked three nights for a long weekend to explore the city with new eyes and, who knows, maybe we’d learn to love New York…
In search of something to make us love New York
We landed at La Guardia on a Friday afternoon about 4:00pm. Admittedly, an hour-long cab ride to Lower Manhattan was probably not the best way to begin our weekend, but schedules are what they are, and traffic is what it is.
Where we stayed
I found a great deal at The Andaz Wall Street – and we really liked the hotel and location. The hotel is modern, low-key and located a couple of blocks from the New York Stock Exchange. The Financial District is quiet on the weekend, with none of the chaos of Midtown – which we strongly preferred. The rooms have a loft feel, with high ceilings, wood floors, and a window seat overlooking the street below.
Travel tip: If visiting New York City on the weekend, check rates on hotels in Lower Manhattan. While hotels may be filled during the week with Financial District business travelers, weekend rates can be over $100 per night less than Midtown hotels of comparable quality.
Once in the city and checked in, it was time to set out and fall in love with (well, at least in like with) New York. I’d made a long list of places to visit, attractions to check out and things to do – thirty in all. What better way to open one’s mind than with a martini and a great meal? That’s where we started…
A “Things to do list” that will make you fall in love with New York
1. Dinner and drinks at Harry’s Café and Steak
About a block away from the Andaz, we stopped in at Harry’s Café and Steak, formerly Harry’s at Hanover Square, which you may remember being mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities or Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. A long time favorite watering hole of traders, the bar is lively, the dining room is a classic steakhouse, and the food is divine. We started the evening with a couple of lemon drop martinis, followed by an amazing Tuna Au Poivre. Loved Harry’s and the upscale, yet casual feel of the restaurant.
2. An evening visit to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street
After dinner, we casually wandered over to the New York Stock Exchange. Located at 11 Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange is the world’s largest stock exchange with a market capitalization of listed companies exceeding 19 trillion dollars. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978, the New York Stock Exchange is no longer open to the public, but is a popular spot for financially focused visitors to stop by and is kind of pretty lit up at night.
After our visit, we found our way to the bar at the hotel and chatted with the bartenders over a glass of wine before turning in for the day. We were starting to warm up to this new version of New York. Was it love yet? No.. but we were off to a good start.
A rainy day museum hopping
The forecast called for rain on Saturday and sun on Sunday, so we decided to start our first full day in New York at the museums. Grabbing a Starbucks and a cab, we headed up to the Central Park area to begin our day’s adventures.
3. A stop by Central Park, even in the rain
Designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in the middle of the 19th century, Central Park is an 843-acre oasis in the middle of the city filled with trails, green space, lakes, and attractions and was the first man-made park in the United States. Even on a dreary Saturday morning, the iconic park was bustling and full of life as people of all ages and walks of life gathered to enjoy some time outdoors.
On the west side of the park sits one of our favorite museums, the American Museum of Natural History, and where we would start on our museum jaunt.
Travel tip: New York CityPASS can save you money and time on the top attractions in the city.
New York CityPASS attractions include the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, choice of either Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum, choice of Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, and choice of Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum or 9/11 Memorial Museum.
4. A morning at the American Museum of Natural History
With 45 exhibition halls and over 32 million specimens housed in over 2 million square feet, the American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the world. Founded in 1869, the world-renowned museum has only increased in popularity in recent times with the release of the movie, A Night at the Museum. Star attractions at the museum include a 94-foot long blue whale replica, the Hall of African mammals, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the Hall of African Peoples, the Hall of Mexico and Central America, and the Giant Anopheles Mosquito.
After a couple of hours of exploring the museum, we headed next door to the New-York Historical Society Museum.
5. Zap! Bam! Pow! at the New-York Historical Society Museum
In all honesty, this was an unplanned visit, but when walking by, we spotted the Batmobile in the lobby. Yes, the real Batmobile from the 1960s TV show – well, apparently there were several, but yes, the REAL Batmobile.
Part of an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum, Superheroes in Gotham, the car drew passersby ranging from toddlers to elders into the museum from the street, eagerly shelling out the $20 admission fee to be in the presence of the venerable Batmobile. Very cool – one more point in the “reasons to love New York” column.
Once past the lobby, visitors also have the opportunity to discover New York’s oldest museum, with more than 1.6 million works of art. Highlights include a large Hudson River School collection, all 435 of John James Audubon’s extant preparatory watercolors for Birds of America, and the museum hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year.
6. So much to love at The Met
Crossing to the east side of Central Park, we next made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commonly referred to as The Met.
The largest art museum in the United States, the Met has amassed a permanent collection of over two million pieces of art since it opened in 1872. One could roam The Met for days and not view the entire museum with works of art spanning a 5,000-year period.
From the Temple of Dendur, to the Sphinx of Hatshepsut, to Arms and Armor, the Met has something for every interest. While visiting, take break with Diana, a bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, in The Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing or stop by the Great Hall Balcony Bar for a glass of wine and do some people watching.
7. A stop by the Guggenheim
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, generally referred to as The Guggenheim, features an impressive collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art. Located on the Upper East Side, The Guggenheim collection is housed in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with a ramp gallery that winds its way from ground level to the top of the museum.
We hadn’t been to the Guggenheim in… well just say a long time. Huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, the building alone is worth the ticket price.
8. Going local with a visit to the Museum of the City of New York
Founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown, the Museum of the City of New York’s primary focus is on telling the history of New York and its residents. Over 1.5 million objects comprise the museum’s collection and include a wide variety of items such as costumes, home furnishings, toys, paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, each representing a small piece of the story of New York. The activist exhibit was very cool and the museum has great authenticity.
After a full day of uptown museums, we grabbed a light dinner then headed downtown for one last stop for the day, 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
9. Reflecting on the 9/11 terrorist attacks
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is located at site of the World Trade Center, where 2,983 people were killed in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. The 110,00 square foot 9/11 Memorial Museum contains more than 10,000 personal and historic objects related to the 9/11 events, including two steel tridents, which were part of the Twin Towers, in the Museums glass atrium.
Adjacent to the Museum, the Memorial consists of two enormous reflecting pools with waterfall cascades built in the footprint of the Twin Towers. Exceptionally beautiful, the Memorial is entitled Reflecting Absence and was designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. More than 24 million people have visited the Memorial since it opened in September 2011, including visitors from all 50 U.S. states and 175 countries.
A humbling piece of New York history, the Memorial is not to be missed.
10. Exploring Lower Manhattan
The next morning, we decided to begin our day closer to our hotel and explore Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The center of business and home to the City of New York government, Lower Manhattan is where New Amsterdam, which is now known as New York, originated in 1624. We once again grabbed a chai latte and simply headed out strolling the blissfully nearly empty streets on a Sunday morning downtown.
Defined on three sides by bodies of water – the Hudson River on the west, the East River on the east, and New York Harbor on the South – Lower Manhattan includes the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Chinatown, the Freedom Tower, the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and Battery Park, where the Statue of Liberty Cruises depart.
11. Heading over to Battery Park
Situated on the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is a 25-acre park that dates back to the 17th century. Home to Hope Garden, the East Coast Memorial and Castle Clinton, Battery Park is also the Manhattan boarding location for taking Statue Cruises to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
12. Paying a visit to Lady a Liberty
An iconic symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. A gift from France to the United States, the copper statue was designed by French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and was dedicated on October 28, 1886. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Statue of Liberty was closed for security reasons. In 2004, visits to Liberty Island resumed at the pedestal level and, in 2009 visits to the crown were once again allowed. The Statue of Liberty is a part of the National Parks Service.
13. Next stop, Ellis Island
The next stop on the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island cruise is Ellis Island. The building that originally served as the port of entry to the United States now is home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Around 12 million immigrants passed through the Ellis Island processing center from the time it opened in 1892 until it closed in 1954. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The main building was reopened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Peopling of America Center® was added in 2015.
14. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry – it’s free, you have to love that
For a view of the Statue of Liberty from the harbor versus a visit on Liberty Island, the Staten Island Ferry is a good (and free) option. The Ferry departs from Whitehall Ferry Terminal next to Battery Park, takes about 25 minutes to reach Staten Island, and provides stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge.
15. Visiting One World Trade Center
Even though we’d visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum the night before, we wanted to go by One World Trade Center during the day. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, stands on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center grounds. Including its spire, the structure reaches a height of 1,776 feet (541 meters), referencing the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. One World Trade Center has an observation deck, but the line was loooooong and we knew we still had other two observation decks on the agenda. Next time.
16. A boat ride under the Brooklyn Bridge
Since 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has spanned the East River connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. One of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 but is still heavily used to this day. According to the New York Department of Transportation, more than 120,000 vehicles drive across the bridge daily and 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross via the pedestrian and bicycling promenade each day.
Torn between walking the bridge and riding under it on a harbor cruise, we opted for the latter. The views were simply amazing.
17. Going hipster and paying Brooklyn a call
The most populous of the five New York City boroughs, if Brooklyn were not a part of New York City, it would be the fourth largest city on the United States. With its tree-lined streets of row houses, unique shopping and charming eateries, Brooklyn has a European feel and diverse neighborhoods, ranging from quiet to hipster.
Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s version of Central Park, also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after their completion of Manhattan’s famous green space. With a zoo, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Audubon Center, the LeFrak Center, miles of hiking and biking trails and 585 acres of space, Prospect Park is a popular spot to get some fresh air and exercise in Brooklyn.
Heading back to Midtown
A cab ride back across the Manhattan bridge and we headed back up to Midtown – yes, on a Sunday afternoon. We knew it would be crowded with tourists, but it had to be on the list…
18. Midday in Midtown at Times Square
In the heart of Midtown, Times Square is where Broadway theaters, television studios, restaurants, hotels and tour companies converge in a sea of neon lights, giant billboards, traffic and tourists. The site of to the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop, Times Square is also home to Duffy Square and a giant red staircase, which provides panoramic views of the area. Below the staircase, TKTS Discount Booths can be found, where tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway musicals, plays, and dance productions can be purchased for 20% to 50% off regular prices.
It was crowded, but a quick stop passing through didn’t seem quite as insufferable as when staying there. I think of Times Square in similar terms of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s flashy, noisy and touristy and bears little likeness to the real United States, even most of the rest of NYC.
19. A late lunch at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar
Arriving in midtown mid-afternoon, we were starved. We’d just had the Guy Fieri’s in Vegas at the Rio (killer tacos) and decided to give it a try. We split the Sashimi tacos and a shrimp po-boy and it was really tasty. Cool place.
20. Taking a break at Bryant Park
Located next to the New York Public Library, Bryant Park is the home of numerous events and a great place to stop for a few minutes, find a bench and watch the city go by.
21. Checking out Rockefeller Center
If you want to pick up a Jimmy Fallon coffee mug, attempt to get on the Today Show with your sign, go shopping, grab a coffee, take a spin around the ice or take in sweeping views of New York City, Rockefeller Center is the place to be.
Completed in 1933, the art deco-styled skyscraper at 30 Rockefeller Plaza has been known throughout the years as the RCA Building, the GE Building, Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rock and, as of July 2015, the Comcast Building. Home to the NBC television network, the building rises 70 stories and is 14th tallest in New York.
While you’re at Rockefeller Center, stop by and book your appointment for the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, which uses a timed entrance system. A visit to the Top of the Rock ticket counter enables purchasing of tickets or exchanging CityPASS vouchers for a timed-entry ticket based on the next availability. In other words, access to the top is scheduled at the time of ticket purchase for a time in the future and access is limited (although once at the top, you can stay as long as you wish).
22. Go big at Radio City Music Hall
Directly across from Rockefeller Center sits the largest indoor theatre in the world, Radio City Music Hall, which has hosted more than 300 million people to film premieres, stage shows, attractions and media events. With a city-block long marquee, the largest stage curtain in the world, a stage considered to the be the best equipped in the world, more than 25,000 lights, a massive custom-built organ, and special effects capabilities that include the ability to make fog and rain, Radio City Music Hall is truly a spectacular venue.
23. Take a spin around the ice (or at least watch the skaters)
It’s one of New York’s most famous attractions – The Rink at Rockefeller Center. With room for only 150 skaters per session, it’s best to reserve a spot ahead online to make sure you get that chance to lace up your skates and take a spin in one of the sessions throughout the day.
24. Observing the city at the Empire State Building
Since 1931, the Empire State Building has served as a landmark in Midtown Manhattan and one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world. Built in the art deco style, it stands 1,454 feet, and offers visitors spectacular views of the city. The Empire State Building has two observatories, one of the 86th floor and another on 102nd floor, and is one of the most popular attractions in New York City.
The CityPASS New York tickets actually provide entry two times during the same day – one during the daytime and a return visit later, which we took advantage of, visiting in the afternoon and again at twilight.
25. A stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The seat of the archbishop of New York, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a majestic structure of neo-Gothic design with spires that reach to 330 feet. A site where many, both famous and not, have christened, married, worshipped and mourned, the beautiful cathedral can hold 3,000 people and occupies an entire city block between 50th and 51st, Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.
26. Watch New York at night from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck
Visitors can take in views of New York from the top three floors of Rockefeller Plaza at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
Offering a panoramic city view that includes the Empire State Building, the 67th and 69th floor of the Top of the Rock observation deck is enclosed with glass, which has small gaps between the glass panels where cameras can catch shots unobstructed. For the best views, head straight to the 70th floor, for wide-open viewing.
27. A late night dinner at ReSette
When we left the Top of the Rock about 10 pm, we were famished. I’d noticed an Italian eatery on 45th as we made our way earlier from the Empire State Building to the Top of the Rock, and suggested we check it out. As we walked along, we noticed everything was shuttered in the city that never sleeps, and dinner plans were looking bleak. Arriving at the restaurant, we discovered it indeed was still open and were welcomed warmly, even though there were only a couple of other diners (they close at 11pm on Sundays). A beautiful restaurant, the pasta was delicious and the service welcoming and attentive.
After dinner, we headed back downtown to rest up for our final day in the city.
28. Walk around downtown as Wall Street gets back to work
By the time we awoke on Monday morning, Lower Manhattan was already in full swing. We stopped in grab our morning chai teas, then wandered around the Financial District, as suit-clad, cell phone talking movers and shakers hustled along, on their way in pursuit of the American dream.
Following our morning stroll, we packed up and left our bags with the hotel. There was only one more destination on the list, the Intrepid, and our plan was to visit to the museum then have a casual lunch before heading to the airport.
29. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Featuring the former U.S. aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise, the submarine Growler, and the east coast’s most varied collection of aircraft, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a popular attraction visited by over one million people each year. After serving in World War II and the Vietnam War, the Intrepid was retired and moved to New York’s Pier 86 at 46th Street, with the museum opening in 1982.
30. Some New York casual time
Leaving the museum, we wandered over to Hell’s Kitchen, and found a little spot for some Thai. After lunch, we continued on a leisurely walk towards midtown.
As our time in New York drew to a close, we hailed a cab to pick up our bags and head to the airport. As we drove along, I rolled down the window to let in the spring breeze and watched the city pass by. The buildings glistened in the afternoon light against a bright blue sky; a dog walker attempted to control five playful pups; joggers ran along the sidewalks at a leisurely pace as New Yorkers went about their Monday on this spring day.
After a whirlwind visit sampling the best of the city, did we fall in love with New York? Without a doubt, New York has so much to offer – attractions, museums, theater, restaurants, shopping, and the list goes on and on. We like the diverse culture, the skyline, and the fast pace. So, in love? We’re probably not there yet, but we did gain a new appreciation for the city.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to CityPASS New York for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Driving up Laguna Road toward Martin Ray Winery, the first thing you’ll notice is a water tower soaring high above the vines against a perfect Sonoma sky. As you turn down the long drive, vibrant flowers and olive trees welcome you to the beautiful, historic winery just west of Santa Rosa.
While we’d tasted Martin Ray’s wines over the years, this was our first visit to the winery and we quickly realized we’d uncovered a gem. Serene and lavishly landscaped, the winery is one of those where you grab a glass, find a chair near the vines or a table next to the gardens, and casually enjoy the wine country experience.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon during Grill 116, a tasting event hosted by 12 wineries along Route 116 in West Sonoma County where attendees sampled their way through wines and grilled specialties along the route.
As visitors meandered about, enjoying the food, wines and a glorious Sonoma afternoon, we caught up with Andy Barker, Director of Consumer Sales & Hospitality, who gave us a tour and shared a bit of the winery’s history along the way – and quite a history it does have.
The oldest continually operating winery in Sonoma County
Oh, the stories the vineyards surrounding the winery could tell. Martin Ray is the oldest continuously operating winery in Sonoma County and one of the oldest in all of California.
Back in 1881, Twin Fir Winery set up a vineyard and winery on this spot in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. In 1902, an Italian immigrant, Rafael Martini, purchased the winery and, in the years following, Martini further developed the estate, building a stable and bunk house where Italian immigrants stayed during harvest. Today, the Martin Ray Tasting Room is housed in this very structure.
Tanks were crafted from old-growth redwood in 1904 and, soon thereafter, Martini turned the operations over to his sons. The Martinis produced wines that put the winery on the map. Enduring prohibition by producing sacramental wines, the winery survived and the Martinis resumed making wines for the public after it was repealed in 1933.
In 1950, Enrico Prati joined the Martini family, and the new Martini & Prati label produced wines at the location until the winery was sold to Courtney Benham in 2003.
Courtney Benham brings Martin Ray Wines to Sonoma County
One of the reasons I love visiting a winery is hearing the history of the vineyard, the winemakers and the winery while walking the grounds and tasting the wine. Somehow, from then on, when the wine fills your glass, the provenance, the terroir, and the winery visit converge in your glass along with the juice, bringing the wine country experience to you as you taste the wine, wherever you may be in the world.
By the time Courtney Benham acquired the Martini & Prati location in 2003, the winery had seen better days and was on the decline. Benham, who had acquired the rights to the Martin Ray brand in 1990, purchased the Martini & Prati vineyards and winery in 2003 and set about renovating the property, bringing it to modern standards, while still embracing its history and tradition.
Today, the winery is a great example of form and function coexisting. The beautiful barrel room serves as a stunning backdrop to parties and events but, when harvest rolls around, the tables are cleared out and the room is used as a production facility.
State of the art storage facilities are housed in buildings that once were home to over 1.5 million gallons of the old redwood storage tanks. Utilizing a variety of production equipment and fermentation methods, the Martin Ray winemakers have at their disposal the tools required to produce the award-winning, artisanal wines for which they are known and respected.
Leaving the barrel rooms and production facilities, we wandered over to the serene setting of the pavilion located under the water tower, which is available for corporate retreats and also used for winery events, such as wine under the stars evenings.
Speaking of wine, it was time to do some more tasting – next stop, the tasting room.
The Martin Ray tasting room
Welcomed by a knowledgeable and friendly staff, the low-key tasting room is just what you’d expect in such an inviting atmosphere.
Martin Ray Wines
We’d tasted the Russian River Valley Chardonnay & Rosé during our tour and we really liked both wines and decided to also try/take home a few of the limited release wines. For our chardonnay choice, we selected the 2014 Mill Station Vineyard-Dutton Ranch Chardonnay from Green Valley.
While I’m generally not a chardonnay fan, Greg is, so we try to find chardonnays that appeal to both our tastes. This one fit the bill, refreshing and not too oaky, with a richness and clean finish. As far as the rosé – we’d loved the 2015 Estate Grown Rosé. Bone dry, complex, crisp – just a perfect summer wine.
Next up, the 2013 Puccioni Vineyard Dry Creek Zinfandel. Robust with an earthy tone and nicely balanced. Liked it, and in the box it went.
Time to get serious, we moved on to the 2013 Martin Ray Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. A truly special wine, the Cab was full bodied, rich and simply divine. This one was a definite purchase and probably will make an appearance around the holidays.
Martin Ray has a small quantity of older vintages available in their library collection. Highly-praised by fans and pros alike, you can also find Martin Ray wines on many quality restaurant wine lists.
Certified Sommelier and general manager of Boulder, Colorado’s L’Atelier, Ryan Hull explains why he regularly features Martin Ray wines in the restaurant:
Martin Ray was legendary…one of the first to bring the French philosophies of wine making and vineyard management to California. The proof is in the pudding. This is apparent from the juice in the glass.
I was recently pouring the 2007 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass and nearly every customer opted for a second. Amazing vintage, incredible complexity and luscious fruit.”
– Ryan Hull, CS & GM, L’Atelier
Visiting Martin Ray
Getting there: Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery is located on the quieter side of the 101, about 10 miles west of downtown Santa Rosa. The address is 2191 Laguna Road, Santa Rosa, California 95401.
Hours: The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Book a tour or reserve a box lunch in advance. The winery welcomes visitors to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful gardens while having lunch or, call two days in advance to order a box lunch for your visit. A variety of tours and tastings are available and can be reserved on the Martin Ray website.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Nestled amidst a lush forest and bordered by the sparkling waters of Gull Lake, Madden’s Resort is home to world-class golf, stunning sunsets, an excellent staff and a laid-back lifestyle with something for everyone. A true retreat in every sense of the word, Madden’s has an activity to fill every minute of the day or, for those seeking a more tranquil experience, serenity for a quiet, scenic escape.
With four golf courses, delicious dining options, more water activities than you could fit into a week, beautiful accommodations, and a fabulous spa, it is understandable why so many have visited and returned to this wonderful resort over the last 87 years.
On our first visit to the highly acclaimed Midwest resort, we spent our time exploring all Madden’s has to offer, while also taking a bit of time to marvel in the peaceful beauty of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort has a wide variety of rooms and locations across the sprawling resort. Our room was in the recently remodeled Voyageur complex on the west side of the resort near the spa. If you love magnificent sunsets – there’s no place quite like it.
In 2015, the Brainerd Lakes area was hit by a massive storm that toppled thousands of trees in the region, with Madden’s taking the brunt of the storm, which destroyed much of the Voyageur building and several others on the property. Fresh off of the renovation, we were among the first to stay in the newly re-opened rooms.
Upon entering the room we were greeted with a welcome note and an assortment of locally made caramels that were spectacular!
The oversized room was immaculate and decorated in neutrals with slate blue accents. With a comfy chair, desk, flat-screen TV, a luxurious bath and a kitchenette, the room was both relaxing and well-equipped. The cozy bed covered with white, plush linens and pillows was incredibly comfortable. Glass doors led to the large private patio with a couple of chairs and fabulous Wilson Bay views.
The resort has 285 guest rooms with varying accommodation types and location options. In addition to Wilson Bay, where we stayed, there are golf villas near Madden Inn & Golf Club, Mission Bay accommodations that are close to the beach and water, and Madden’s offers all-inclusive stays at Madden’s Lodge on the Steamboat Bay side of the resort.
One of the first thoughts I had when we drove into Madden’s was what a spectacular job they’ve done in blending their landscaping and development with the natural environment. Built across 1000 acres, of which, over 600 acres remain undeveloped, the natural habitat is accentuated by colorful plants, fountains, and art. The natural and developed elements blend harmoniously to create an enhanced landscape that celebrates the natural beauty of Minnesota.
Part of embracing natural beauty is protecting it and Madden’s green initiatives for the resort are apparent throughout. Outdoor bars use reusable drinkware, the wine list features & identifies several organic or sustainable wines, guests are encouraged to reuse towels and recycle, the resort has water and energy efficiency practices in place throughout and there’s an on-property chef’s garden that supplies fresh vegetables and herbs for the restaurants.
Madden’s four golf courses
Shortly after checking in, we made our way to the Classic Golf Course, which is consistently recognized by golf publications as one of the best courses in the Midwest, as well as the world. Built in 1997, The Classic at Madden’s meanders over gentle hills and through towering trees, with pristine bent-grass tees, fairways and greens, and stunning views.
Early evening on a course is such a pleasant time of day. As the heat of the day fades and shadows dance across the fairways, a quieter pace permeates. As we made our way around Madden’s Classic course, my thoughts turned back to childhood evenings getting a few holes in with my Dad after he arrived home from work. The unhurried outings where he’d casually correct my stance and we’d take time to practice an approach to a challenging green came flooding back with a smile as we drove along on the cart.
In the distance, just across one of the Classic’s picturesque bridges spanning a pond with lily pads, a foursome shared a laugh as they headed toward their cart en route to the 17th hole.
While the park-like setting of the 6,101-yard Classic course is astonishingly beautiful, challenges await around every turn with water on 15 holes and over 50 bunkers on the par 72 course. And – the Classic Course is actually only one of four courses at Madden’s Resort.
The Pine Beach East course, Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course, dates back to 1926 when it was built by James Dalgleish, attracting golfers from the area to the links on the shores of Gull Lake.
Located directly behind the Madden Lodge, Pine Beach East offers 5,944 yards of golf on well-manicured, generous fairways and gorgeous greens. A mix of a traditional layout and modern golfing challenges, Pine Beach East is also home to a rare par 6 hole – the 618-yard sixth hole.
On the southwest section of the resort, yet another first class golf experience is for the taking at the 18 hole Pine Beach West. Narrow fairways and fast greens put the challenge into this wooded 5,070 yard par 67 course.
For the family outing or a quick warm up, the Social 9 course offers eight par threes and one par four in a relaxing atmosphere.
The Spa at Madden’s
A world away from the hustle and bustle of the daily life, the Spa at Madden’s is the perfect place for rejuvenation and pampering. Overlooking peaceful Wilson Bay, the Spa offers a full menu of services including massages, pedicures, manicures, facials, waxing and wraps.
Grab a cup of tea, take a stroll by the lake behind the Spa and admire the J. Kreitz artwork, then indulge in a day of relaxation and watch the stress melt away.
Dining at Madden’s
While at Madden’s we had the opportunity to visit several of the restaurants. Casual & inviting, each restaurant offered fresh, modern dishes, and exceptional service.
The first evening we dined at the Classic Grill, which delivered all the way around – great food, excellent service and marvelous views. We started off the evening with a couple of martinis and then progressed to salads. The Madden’s house salad is amazing with mixed greens, craisins, walnuts, feta cheese, and honey mustard. Next up, I had the Walleye and Greg had the scallops and shrimp. As we often do, we each ate half, then swapped plates. Both entrées were delicious and the sear on the scallops was perfect, with a gorgeous caramelized crust on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside. The service was outstanding and the view was spectacular.
After sunset, we took a walk around the resort, stopping for a glass of wine at Parfecto Pizza, a fun, casual restaurant featuring pizzas, flatbreads, calzones, and salads with items available for takeout or room delivery.
Finishing our wine, we strolled back to our room to the sounds of frogs, surrounded by the beauty of the Minnesota night.
The next morning, we took an early walk around the resort with a stop by Madden Bros. Market for a chai latte and a heavenly donut.
Located in a village of shops across from Madden Inn, Madden Bros. Market is the resort’s version of a general store, with a coffee bar, gift shop, wine shop and practically anything else one may need or want on their vacation from s’more supplies to souvenirs.
Madden’s also has a variety of other restaurants, including The Restaurant at Madden Inn & Golf Club, the Dining Room at Madden Lodge, the 19th Hole & Pool Deck, The O’Madden Pub, and the Lobby Café.
There is no better way to experience the beauty of Gull Lake than from the water. Simply name your sport and Madden’s is there to make it happen. From kayaks, canoes, rowing skulls and paddle boats to water bikes, a banana boat, or stand up paddle boards, it’s on the agenda. If fun on the water includes fishing or a boat ride, fishing boats, a tritoon, pontoons and speedboats are also available at the resort.
Prefer a bit of poolside leisure or perhaps some sand between your toes? Madden’s Resort has three indoor pools, one outdoor pool, an outdoor hot, and three beaches.
Meetings, conferences, and weddings
While exploring, we happened upon several beautiful buildings for hosting events and meetings. With its copper covered tower, Madden’s Town Hall Conference Center is large enough to host 700 for meetings, conferences, and trade shows.
Next to the spa, the newly rebuilt Wilson Bay private venue space is a spectacular location for a wedding set against a backdrop of Gull Lake and room to host a reception and dance with a private bar, casual seating areas and fine dining.
5 things we loved about Madden’s
The staff at Madden’s was helpful and friendly and always quick to answer a question or lend a hand.
The golf courses are lush, not overcrowded and exceptionally well-maintained.
The resort is serene, beautiful and epitomizes approachable, lake-side luxury.
The food is outstanding.
There’s so much to do, with activities of every type, or one can simply take a stroll or quietly relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun set.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Madden’s on Gull Lake for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
A couple of hours gliding on clear waters, while enjoying delicious food and a beverage under clear blue skies, makes for one of our favorite ways to spend an afternoon.
When the lake is Gull Lake, one of the largest in the Brainerd, Minnesota area, with 38 miles of picturesque coastline and sparkling waters, and the boat it is the luxury Destiny Cruises yacht, the North Star, the experience is elevated to a superb afternoon of relaxation and leisure.
Destiny Cruises on Gull Lake
Our two-hour lunch excursion aboard the beautiful motor yacht began at the docks at Ernie’s on Gull, about six miles north of Brainerd. Welcomed aboard with a warm, Minnesota welcome, guests have the option of relaxing downstairs in the air-conditioned, glass-enclosed cabin, or opting for the open-air upstairs deck. We headed straight upstairs to bask in the Minnesota sunshine.
The yacht is large – 65 feet long and 22 feet wide – providing guests plenty of room to spread out, get comfortable and enjoy the captivating views.
Custom built by SkipperLiner in LaCrosse, WI for Destiny Cruises, the North Star took a year to build and was delivered in 2014. Now in her third season on Gull Lake, the North Star was the first public cruise vessel to operate on the lake for many years. The elegant boat’s public cruises, which include lunch, brunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises, have been warmly welcomed by the community and visitors to the area. The yacht is also a popular venue for private chartered events and weddings.
With two cash bars, one upstairs and one down, guests can partake of a beverage, as we did, selecting a refreshing cocktail to enjoy as we pulled away from the dock and headed out on the sparkling waters of Gull Lake.
One of the largest lakes in the Brainerd area, Gull Lake is three miles wide and fifteen miles long. Along the way, our captain provided some of the area’s history and facts about the lake itself. Gull Lake is 70 – 85 feet deep in most places and contains most types of fish common to Minnesota’s waters.
As the relaxation and fun continued, we took turns “diving the boat” and I even donned the captain’s cap while at the helm.
Lunch was a delicious selection of BBQ chicken and salmon, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and turtle pudding for dessert.
We made our way around the lake, passing Hole in the Day Bay, where an ice fishing championship is held each winter with 20,000 pre-drilled holes created in advance for the competition. On this warm, sunny day as the lake sparkled in a thousand shades of blue, it was hard to imagine it being cold enough for ice fishing a few months earlier. The magic of Minnesota.
There are 19 resorts on Gull Lake, including Madden’s, where we stayed while visiting the Brainerd area, and which we highly recommend. A beautiful, sprawling resort, Madden’s has five restaurants, four pools, two lounges, three golf courses, spa, full-service marina and so much more. If you are staying at Madden’s and would like to schedule a private Destiny Cruise for your group, Destiny Cruise can even pick you up at the resort.
As our wonderful time aboard the North Star drew to a close, we savored the last moments of peaceful relaxation and stunning views on Gull Lake. The entire two-hour cruise was perfect thanks to the beautiful surroundings, the large, elegant yacht, and the excellent crew.
Know before you go
Prepare for changing weather. Except when severe weather conditions are present, cruises depart rain or shine. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a light jacket, especially in the evening or on a cloudy day.
Cruises. Destiny Cruises offers public brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises. Private charters for events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, family gatherings or corporate getaways are also available. Visit the Destiny Cruises website for more information and to book your cruise or private event.
Bring some cash. The crew provides excellent service and gratuity for the onboard staff is not included in the ticket price.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Destiny Cruises for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As you enter Paul Bunyan Land, the famous lumberjack sits directly in front of you, 26 feet tall with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, and he greets you by name. After that, he answers any questions you may have.
We had a few – check out Paul telling us how old he is and what his favorite food is…
Paul went on to tell us about how his dog, Sport, the Reversible Dog, who ended up with his legs upside down. Evidently, Sport accidentally got cut in half and when the nearby doctor sewed him back together he made the mistake. Now sport runs on his front legs, then flops over and runs on his hind legs when he gets tired.
As much as we loved it, children are mesmerized. Watching from a short distance, nostalgia is in the air as parents and grandparents relive their own childhood memories with the plaid-shirted animated giant.
A local attraction and tradition in the Brainerd Lakes Area since the 1950s, Paul and his friends’ futures were looking bleak when the original amusement park, Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, closed in 2002 to make way for a Kohl’s department store. Hoping to obtain a few items from the park as it was sold off, the owners of Pioneer Village, located about 6 miles away, ended up purchasing the entire amusement park. Combining the two attractions, they relocated the rides, buildings, Paul, Sport, and Paul’s ox, Babe the Blue Ox, to their new home on 23 acres, which is now Paul Bunyan Land and This Old Farm Pioneer Village.
The park now has something for everyone, offering a day of fun and exploration for the entire family. Paul Bunyan Land has 40 rides and attractions, a petting barn, and the Pioneer Village is home to 30 buildings filled with the largest one man collection of antiques from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s in Minnesota.
The amusement park
With 40 amusement rides and attractions, the kiddos will be entertained all day – and they can be because all rides are included in the admission price.
There are rides like the Flight Commander and Mini Roller Coaster for the little ones.
For the older family members, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Dodge-em-Cars and Flying Cages provide whirls and thrills. And, for everyone in the family, climb on the ferris wheel or explore the Magnetic Mine.
In addition to the amusement park, Paul Bunyan Land has a candy store and jail, which are conveniently, oh I mean curiously, next door to each other.
Paul’s petting barn
Paul’s petting barn is between the amusement park and the Pioneer Village and a chance to stop by and see the horses, chickens and pigs up close.
This Old Farm Pioneer Village
Thirty buildings await exploration in The Pioneer Village, including a train depot, blacksmith, saw mill, fire station, church, sweet shoppe, log house, fire station and many more.
Each of the buildings are filled with antiques primarily from the collection of Dick and Marian Rademacher, who started the Village, and from other donors who wanted to see their collections enjoyed by the many visitors to the park.
Great care in preserving history is visible throughout Pioneer Village. The Rad’s Groceries building was the actual structure of the store operated about six miles away by Rademacher’s parents. The building was moved from its original location to the Village and then filled with period pieces from the Rademacher antique collection.
The train depot building was actually used in the making of the 1994 movie Iron Will starring Mackenzie Astin and Kevin Spacey. Following the movie, the structure was moved to Brainerd and re-constructed in the Pioneer Village.
Current owners, Lois Moon and Alan Rademacher, work to preserve the massive collection their father built over the years and to share it with the many park visitors. The collection is vast, with thousands and thousands of items ranging from glassware to antique cars to farm equipment.
Donations of items, such as a huge camera collection and the cannon shown below, have made their way to Pioneer Village, with the understanding that, once donated, the items will stay in the Village permanently.
Where to stay
There are a variety of lodging choices in and around Brainerd, but we recommend Madden’s on Gull Lake. A beautiful, luxury resort, Madden’s has stunning water views, two golf courses, a spa, fabulous dining, a beach and so much more.
Know before you go
Admissions. Here’s one parents should love. Admission includes unlimited rides for the day, and entry to the petting barn and Pioneer Village. Season passes are also available and children under 2 are free.
Park hours. The park is open daily 10 am to 6 pm from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day. Additionally, the park operates Brainerd Lakes’ largest haunted attraction in October and free admission to the Enchanted Holiday Pioneer Village during the holiday season in December. Visit the Paul Bunyan Land website for hours and dates.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Paul Bunyan Land for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.
It’s not every day that you visit a town and, upon arriving, the mayor and the former mayor meet you and take you on a tour. But then, not every town is Dorset, Minnesota.
There’s a lot happening in this unique little town in north central Minnesota with a population of 22. The self-proclaimed “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset has a newspaper that is published once a year “whether there’s unbelievable news or not” and has elected a three-year old mayor – twice.
The Youngest Mayor in America
When James Tufts became mayor of Dorset in 2015 at the age of three, he stole the record as Dorset’s youngest mayor from his older brother. Two-term former mayor, Robert “Bobby” Tufts, was also elected at the age of three but, with his win, James edged him out as the youngest by two days.
How did a three-year old become mayor, you may ask? In unincorporated Dorset, the mayor is drawn from the ballots cast during the annual Taste of Dorset festival. It’s a buck a ballot and anyone can enter their selection during the process, with the proceeds going to charity.
During their time in office, the Tufts brothers have gained international fame, appearing on the Today Show and Good Morning America and having made headlines in the NY Daily News, the Daily Mirror and countless other news outlets.
After a tour through several of James’ favorite haunts around town, such as the toy section of a local store and the miniature golf course, we stopped to catch some words of wisdom from the pint-sized politician who is quick to dispense sage advice.
And, it appears we are in good company – well, at least famous company. According to the local paper, the Dorset Daily Bugle, all of the presidential candidates have sought the mayor’s advice. James, now at the wise old age of four, provided these words of wisdom, “Be nice and no poopy talk.”
Older brother Bobby, now a Dorset ambassador, seems happy to assist his younger sibling with his mayoral duties. But, if you think he’s completely retired from politics, you may want to think otherwise. It appears from his hat he’s already exploring a 2048 presidential bid.
Finishing up our time with the Tuft political dynasty, we moved on to investigate Dorset’s other claim to fame as the Restaurant Capital of the World.
The Restaurant Capital of the World
With five restaurants serving the 22 residents of Dorset, it does seem the tiny town is worthy of the title of Restaurant Capital of the World.
This actually follows a two-year period when the town was down to only three restaurants. In September 2014, Campaneros and the Dorset House were destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning. Both restaurants were rebuilt and reopened in 2016, restoring the town’s assortment of dining options to five. While in town, we dined at La Pasta, which in addition to a wide selection of Italian delicacies, has ridiculously good breadsticks.
Obviously, most visitors come to the Restaurant Capital of the World to eat but, when visiting, be sure to allow some time in your schedule for shopping as well.
A stroll down Dorset’s main street is a must and will undoubtedly result in a few finds that must make their way home with you. From souvenirs, to home decor to antiques to yes, James’ favorite, candy and toys await.
Things to do near Dorset
Shop Downtown Park Rapids. Only 6 miles from Dorset, Park Rapids has a charming downtown area with numerous shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Visit Detroit Lakes. Only about an hour away from Dorset, Detroit Lakes is has a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining.
We loved visiting Dorset and applaud the 22 residents and the nearby town of Park Rapids for their creativity in promoting this unique little place on the planet. Thank you to everyone who came out to meet us, to La Pasta for hosting us for lunch, and to James and Bobby for our tour of the town.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Cover: Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Caitlin Rick
Article by Kim Hull
Home to the beginning of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park is a wonderful 32,000 acre park with towering pines, more than 100 lakes, hiking and biking trails, the largest pine tree in Minnesota, the historic Douglas Lodge and much more.
Established in 1891, Itasca is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the United States. It is also the most popular in Minnesota, with over a half million visitors each year. Most come to cross the rocks at the headwaters of the Mississippi, but discover an outdoor paradise and return to park to explore and enjoy it further, with 70% of Itasca visitors being return visitors.
A good place to begin a visit to Itasca State Park is at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.
Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
We always start a park visit with a stop at the visitors center, so we’ve been to quite a few across the country and the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is one of the nicest we’ve visited. Bright and spacious, it is well laid-out, with interpretive and hands-on exhibits, photographs, videos, maps of the area and a gift shop.
The 13,000 square foot center is named after Jacob V. Brower, a writer, historian and land surveyor, who came to the Lake Itasca area in the 1800’s to settle a dispute over the location of the start of the Mississippi. Brower remained in the area and his conservation work to save the pine forests, which were being threatened from logging, ultimately resulted in the establishment of the state park in April of 1891.
Park naturalists and staff are on hand at the center to answer questions and provide recommendations on exploring the park. Maps and information are also available at the center, including an Itasca State Park overview pamphlet.
When planning a visit to Itasca State Park, the park has several lodging and camping options available for your stay, including a hostel, the historic Douglas Lodge, or, of course, camping under the stars.
The historic Douglas Lodge opened in 1905 and has since hosted guests for over 110 years. While having been updated through the years with modern conveniences, the quiet, peaceful lodge retains its historic feel with period furnishings and rustic decor.
Douglas Lodge has three suites that include a bathroom with a shower and four single rooms that share hallway baths. The common area is a warm, cozy living room with a large stone fireplace. The Lodge also has a full-service restaurant available for both hotel guests and park visitors that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Hiking & biking trails
With 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, Itasca has a wide variety of treks ranging from short, easy hikes to longer, more adventurous trails.
The Headwaters Loop Trail & Doctor Roberts Trail near Douglas Lodge are both wheelchair accessible, boardwalk trails that wind through nature. The Headwaters Loop Trail runs from the Mary Gibbs Headwater Center along the Mississippi River to the Headwaters and the boardwalk section of the Roberts Trail runs to Old Timer’s Cabin.
The Itasca State Park Summer Map has a full listing of the park’s hiking trails. Bicycling on hiking trails is prohibited, but 16 miles of bicycle routes run through from the visitor center to the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center, while also connecting to Douglas Lodge.
One thing we weren’t going to miss when visiting Minnesota was crossing the beginning of the mighty Mississippi River.
Sure we’ve crossed the Mississippi countless times through the years by car in the 10 states it passes through on its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf Of Mexico, but Itasca State Park is the only place on earth where you can walk across it as it begins that path downstream.
If you want to say hi to someone while you are there, give them a call and tell them to go to Mississippi headwaters webcam and they can watch as you make your crossing. Definitely a cool adventure!
Get the book: The Best of Itasca
The Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce provided us with a copy of Deanne Johnson’s book, The Best of Itasca prior to our visit. It is a beautiful, comprehensive book, filled with everything you need to know whether visiting for a few hours or a week.
Itasca State Park location
Itasca State Park is in north central Minnesota a little over 200 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul and 26 miles from Park Rapids.