Wild Water Fun in Niagara Falls, NY

Wednesday September 25, 2013 at 8:08 AM | 5 Comments

Maid of the MistMany often think of Niagara Falls as being in Ontario, Canada, but most people don’t realize that two of the three falls that comprise Niagara Falls are actually located in the United States. While the Canadian side does boast fabulous views of the falls, there are some fun water activities that you can do in Niagara Falls, NY – leaving your passport at home!

Maid of the Mist

Both countries currently offer rides on the Maid of the Mist, although the Canadian Maid of the Mist will cease operations this year (with another company poised to take over in 2014). It’s a family-friendly attraction that’s appropriate for kids of all ages. Guests don a complimentary blue poncho and board the short boat tour of the falls. While guests on one side of the boat got soaked, it’s easy to move over to the opposite side if you’d prefer to only get slightly wet. The Maid of the Mist is the best way to get up close to the falls, and any tourist to Niagara Falls should do it.

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours

Adrenaline junkies can’t leave the Niagara Falls, NY area without a trip on a Whirlpool Jet Boat. These boats travel through class five rapids at a quick speed, soaking passengers in the process. There are three Whirlpool Jet Boat locations in the Niagara Falls area, with one in Canada and two in New York. We visited the Lewiston, NY location, where I was impressed with the professionalism of our guide Shaun and captain Aleeshia. Despite the layers of clothes they provide you, you will get absolutely soaked on the ride, so be prepared with a full change of clothes. If you sit in the first three rows of the boat you’ll feel almost submerged by water at some points, so sit in the back if you aren’t comfortable with that.

Cave of the Winds

Cave of the Winds is located in the Olmsted-designed Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in America. Guests receive specially-designed sandals and yellow ponchos, and ride in an elevator 175 feet down into Niagara Gorge. Wooden boardwalks are rebuilt seasonally and take you right by the Bridal Veil Falls. If you are brave, be sure to walk all the way to the Hurricane Deck, where you’ll experience the rushing winds and waters of the falls. It’s the closest guests can get to the falls!

If you go:

To get the best photos, invest in a small, waterproof camera. Although you won’t be able to use it during the Devil’s Hole Rapids runs on the Jet Boat, you will be able to use it during part of ride.

This is a guest post by Jodi Grundig of Family Travel Magazine. Photo is courtesy of Jodi Grundig.

Disclosure: I experienced these attractions at no cost as part of the TMS Family Travel Conference.

The Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch, adventure in Wyoming

Friday September 20, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 5 Comments

Lake Marlene, Wyoming

Enjoy Wyoming’s wide open spaces at Jackson Fork Ranch

Wyoming is home to bears, bald eagles, bison and bronc riders, among others. It’s a place where you step back in time to the wild west days; where neighbors were few and far between and land stretched out as far as the eye could see. A place where cowboys rode in the Tetons for days at a time looking for their cattle.

I recently discovered the wide open spaces of Bondurant, Wyoming at The Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch. This intimate lodge, located 40 miles south of Jackson Hole, is ideal for singles, couples or families looking to experience an active adventure vacation while still enjoying gourmet meals and luxury lodging.

Open year round, Jackson Fork Ranch specializes in fly fishing, but like the fictional character Doctor Dolittle, with his menagerie of animals, the owner of this 1,300 acre bison ranch has a soft spot for animals, thus explaining the presence of 350 bison, a Percheron horse breeding program, minature donkeys and a Trumpeter swan partnership with the state of Wyoming.



Traveling trout, National Museum of Wildlife Art

Traveling trout, National Museum of Wildlife Art

Wyoming fly fishing

The sun beat high overhead on my first cast into a riffle on  Wyoming’s Upper Hoback River. I saw the splash of a tail flick the surface of the water as the fish manuevered away from the fast current.

My next cast landed in the eddy and danced my fly right to the shady spot by the river bank. Nibble, nibble, tug on the line; this fish was mine – for the moment. I’m a catch and release girl when it comes to native cutthroat trout.

Hiking in wild Wyoming

Waders off, we return to The Lodge at Jackson Fork and change into hiking boots. After filling our water bottles, our group decides between an ambitious hike to Kilgore Falls behind the lodge or down a flat forested trail. We opt for the forest trail and are rewarded with wild flowers, a beaver house and moose sighting by the Upper Hoback River. After patiently posing for our party of papparazzi, the moose meanders off the gravel bar, headed into the forest.

High Plains Bison, Jackson Fork Ranch

High Plains Bison filet is served at Jackson Fork Ranch

Dining at The Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch

Dinners are well thought out culinary adventures at the all-inclusive Jackson Fork Lodge. As most guests come for the fly fishing, it’s a given that fish will surface on the menu during your stay. Bison will also be highlighted in the form of bison filets, bacon or perhaps tucked under layers of pasta in a house made lasagna. Mr. Joe Ricketts, TD Ameritrade founder and owner of The Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch, also owns several bison operations in Canada and Montana, as well as High Plains Bison, a manufacturer of bison meat. If you have never tasted bison, you are in for a treat.

Back to the menu at hand; an herb filled creme fraiche tart with yellow and red garden fresh tomatoes  and basil started our dinner, followed with bison on a bed of mashed potatoes and asparagus. A trio of house made chocolate cake, upside down pear cake and cream puff pastries completed the meal.

Breakfasts are hearty affairs with eggs benedict and fried potatoes, fresh fruit and juice, as well as homemade granola with yogurt. Picnic style lunches are packed to go at the lodge for your outdoor adventures. Lunches may range from meat and cheese sandwiches, with chips, salad and fruit, to cold chicken, Cous cous salad and homemade toffee or brownie bars. Gluten free options are available, as well.

Be advised that the lodge does not own a liquor license. It’s BYOB (bring your own beverage) at the ranch.

Jackson Fork Ranch Percheron horses

Gray Percheron horses pull the carriage at Jackson Fork Ranch

Horses at Jackson Fork Ranch

Just as Wyoming is larger than life, it follows that the horses of Jackson Fork Ranch would be massive. Looking down at the pasture from Jackson Fork Lodge, the horses grazing in the meadow don’t look that big. However, get up close to these gray or black beauties and you’ll be hard pressed to call them ponies.

Take a Percheron driven carriage ride (or sleigh ride in the winter) through the Upper Hoback valley, watch the ranch hands feed bison (there’s even a bison round up in November) or go horseback riding into the Bridger Teton National Forest between the Wyoming Range and the Gros Ventre Range.

hot tub, Jackson Fork Lodge

Enjoy the hot tub at Jackson Fork Lodge in Wyoming

Sweet dreams at Jackson Fork Lodge

After a day of fishing, hiking, horseback riding, or Nordic skiing, slip into the outdoor hot tub and soak up the Wyoming beauty.  Then it’s time to turn in and tune out in your private room at Jackson Fork Lodge. All rooms in the four bedroom lodge, which may be rented out in its entirety, are named after settlers in Wyoming.

My upstairs room, the Sublette Suite, rented for $625 per night, including meals, and featured a king bed, stone fireplace, Jacuzzi tub and separate shower, in addition to a large walk in closet. With a panoramic view of the Upper Hoback Valley and surrounding mountains, be sure to take in a sunrise or sunset during your vacation.

Sublette Suite, Jackson Fork Lodge, Wyoming

The Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch includes the Sublette Suite.

Need to know:

Guests will either drive to Bondurant, Wyoming or fly into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC.) While shuttles from Jackson Hole Airport may be arranged, it is recommended that guests rent a car during your visit to Jackson Fork Ranch. You’ll need access to a vehicle for visits to downtown Jackson Hole, meeting fishing guides or sight seeing off property. Check the website for details.

Check-in time: flexible

Check-out time: 12:00 p.m.

Insider Tips

Plans are underway for a 20 room lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch. The ranch has a “no tipping” policy for staff. Outside partners and guides for fishing and horseback riding is left to your discretion.

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter.

If You Go:

The Lodge at Jackson Fork Ranch  (866) 953-1290

670 Upper Hoback Road

Bondurant, Wyoming 82922

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Jackson Fork Ranch.

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Things to See and Do in Lisbon, Portugal

Friday September 13, 2013 at 5:05 AM | 0 Comments

The 25th of April bridge in Lisbon, Portugal is similar to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

The 25th of April bridge in Lisbon, Portugal is similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Are you visiting Lisbon, Portugal for the first time? As I am from the San Francisco Bay area, I found that our city has a lot in common with Lisbon.  Lisbon has their finiculars to climb the steep hills, we have our famous San Francisco cable cars.

Here in San Francisco, we are well known for our sourdough bread. Lisbon, Portugal has some amazing bread and local olive oils to savor, along with a good glass of wine or port. In Lisbon, they enjoy their cod, prepared many ways, while in San Francisco, we love our ocean salmon and Dungeness crab. Finally, Lisbon, Portugal has The 25th of April suspension bridge which is painted the same color as our Golden Gate Bridge.  What’s not to like about Lisbon? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do in Lisboa.

When I have a visitor from out of town the first place they want to see is the Castle; Alfama and Belém, but I also take them to Nations Park for a more local, authentic experience.

Just outside of Lisbon, visit the National Palace of Queluz. A twenty minute ride on the Rossio train, the Palace offers a fantastic equestrian show weekly performed by The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.


Lisbon Aquarium, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon Aquarium, Lisbon, Portugal

Museums are wonderful, but if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to visit the Oceanario de Lisboa (Lisboa Aquarium) or the puppet museum.

Portuguese food favorites

If you are looking for typical Portugese cuisine, I recommend Clams “Bulhão Pato” way; Bacalhau à Brás – (scrambled eggs, fries onions and cod); shrimp soup and Pastéis de Belém.


Belem Tarts, Lisbon, Portugal

Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal

Pastéis de Belém

In my opinion, these tasty Custard tarts are best when eaten warm. You’ll thank me later!

The best place to go for coffee & a breakfast treat is Café “A Brasileira” at the Chiado district – nice ambiance in a 1920’s café, where poets and politicians used to go for their gatherings.

Ginjinha, please

Ginjinha is a cherry liqueur that you’ll find in Lisbon, as well as the “Carcavelos” and Moscatel (Muscat grape varietal) from Setúbal. You will find Ginjinha all over Portugal, as it is the drink of locals. Go to a tavern or restaurant and say, “É uma ginjinha, por favor!” (A ginjinha, please!)

Looking for affordable Portugese food, try Granja Velha. 

Bica do Sapato is the spot for late night dining and Cantinho do Avillez in Lisbon.

For an expensive, yet quality meal, go to Belcanto.


Portuguese pottery, Lisbon, Portugal

Portuguese pottery, Lisbon, Portugal

Portuguese pottery

Are you seeing a lot of brightly colored, hand painted pottery in the shops? Lisbon is well known for Portuguese pottery.

When you come to Lisbon, get your picture taken at the Commerce Square.

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Santa Justa Lift; Discoveries Monument and Belém Tower, these last ones are by the Belém district. In the evening, go to the rooftop bars of the Bairro Alto; Mundial; Sheraton and Tivoli Lisboa for kissing with a view.

In Lisbon, outdoor enthusiasts will want to walk the city and experience the tram rides and go-cars.

Looking for a little exercise, walk along the Tagus river bank. 

If you are a museum lover, Lisbon’s best museums are the Ancient Art Museum; Gulbenkian Foundation; MUDE (Fashion and Design) and the City Museum, among others. With free admission to 26 museums and historic buildings, as well as free travel on Carris buses, funiculars, trams, certain CP train lines and the underground, you’ll want to consider purchasing the Lisboa Card during your trip.


Bairro Alto rooftop, Lisbon, Portugal

Bairro Alto rooftop bar, Lisbon, Portugal

Looking for exciting night life? Go dancing at LUX or go to “Pensão Amor” the new trendy bar in Lisbon, Portugal. 

The local newspaper, Público, will keep you posted on what’s happening in Lisbon. 

There is always something happening in Lisbon. Try and go to the Gulbenkian Jazz Festival (Jazz em Agosto) in Lisbon, Portugal.

If you are traveling in the spring, you might like Lisboa Fish and Flavours, a gastronomic event for food lovers that takes place at the Patio da Gale. 


King John 1

King John 1 leads his men into Lisbon, Portugal on horseback

Insider Tip:

Just outside of Lisbon you can visit Sintra, Cascais, Estorial and some other interesting areas like Seubal.What are your favorite things to do in Lisbon, Portugal?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter and follow VisitPortugal on Twitter.

Thanks to the Portugal Tourism Bureau and Tourism Lisbon for assistance with this post. Photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown.

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