travel

Summer Snapshots: MGM Foxwoods

In August, I took a pseudo vacation to Foxwoods — and I call it a pseudo vacation because it barely lasted more than 12 hours.

My sister was off from her grad school program during August, and for one week, she and my parents hung out in Long Branch. They stayed at the arty, new Bungalow Hotel, relaxed on the beach, ate good seafood. They also happened upon a good rate at the MGM Foxwoods at the end of the week, and decided to tack that on to their time off.

I think the fam felt bad that I, and the boyfriends, had been at work that whole week, so they booked an extra MGM hotel room for us young’uns. I never turn down an excuse to get out of town — no matter how brief — so that’s how the boys and I ended up driving to Foxwoods that Friday night.

Traffic was pretty bad, so we didn’t get there until nearly 8:30, more than three hours after we left the city. The first thing we did, after dropping our stuff in our room (which was very nice with the modern, dark wood aesthetic and big bathroom), was eat.

We had dinner in Shrine, the MGM’s Asian restaurant/club, which is built in the Tao/Buddakan vein. The meal was fantastic. The rare tuna steak I had was one of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Afterwards, we walked around the MGM and the main Foxwoods casino. I have never understood the appeal of casinos. They’re always kind of low-ceilinged and carpeted, and there’s never windows or natural light. I get that the atmosphere makes gamblers stick around longer, but it makes me want to get out of there asap. Plus, I’m way too frugal (ok, cheap) to risk my money on something I’ll never win.

After a very comfy sleep that night, we drove back home the next morning, just about 12 hours after we arrived. Still, it felt like enough of an escape — just getting out of the city for a little bit, during the summer, makes me feel that way.

What TripAdvisor Doesn’t Want You to Know

My sister and I are headed to Nicaragua for a weeklong vacation. We’ll be flying to Managua early Thursday morning, and traveling to the Corn Islands, Granada, and la Isla de Ometepe.

To plan our trip, we tapped many of the usual travel resources: recent magazine and news stories about Nicaragua, guidebooks, acquaintances who had been there, travel websites and forums. But during this research process, I stumbled upon something I found a bit unsettling.

I was trying to find recent information about safety on Little Corn Island, a tiny, remote, largely undeveloped island in the Caribbean. Moon and Lonely Planet both mentioned how the island has been the site of sporadic violence against tourists, and that women should take caution when traveling there. (The crimes are due to growing tourism coupled with a lack of police presence on the island. Until a few years ago, the island had no law enforcement. Now, it apparently has one police officer.)

On Lonely Planet’s and TripAdvisor’s forums, I found posts about a recent incident that occurred at a Little Corn hotel. According to the posts, two women from the UK were robbed at machete point in their casita, in the middle of the night. “Good to know,” I thought to myself. A few days later, when I tried to pull up the TripAdvisor post, I saw that it was gone. (The Lonely Planet post is still up.)

I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Two other Trip Advisor users commented about the post’s disappearance on a new thread. At that point, TripAdvisor responded with the following message:

“Tragic circumstances occur in every city of the world, including crimes that involve both tourists and locals. We close or remove topics that include graphic descriptions of violent crimes or accidental death and injury; the subject matter does not conform to our rules regarding family-friendly topics and our requirement that forum threads be travel-related discussions.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.”

That explanation didn’t sit well with me. First of all, I think every traveler knows that every destination comes with risks, and that crime can happen to anyone, at any place, at any time. Secondly, it was a travel-related post: It was an incident that could have been reported in a newspaper. I didn’t find the post “graphic” or overblown at all. Plus, I think it’s always good to learn as much about a destination as you can, whether the information is positive or negative. And when it comes to remote destinations that don’t get a lot of news coverage, other travelers can be an invaluable source of info. You can’t help but wonder how much information TripAdvisor is censoring — and what other topics are deemed not “travel-related” or not “family-friendly.”

Once again, others in the TripAdvisor community shared my sentiment. Several members vented their feelings on a new thread, questioning TripAdvisor’s interest in removing the post, and decrying it as a blow against the site’s credibilty.

A Weekend at Seneca Lake

Every summer, my friend Barb rents a house on Seneca Lake, rounds up a group of people, and heads upstate for a long weekend. Barb had invited me once or twice in the past, but I never made it up, owing, mostly, to a lack of vacation days. But this year, work wasn’t an issue. I received Barb’s invite just as I had finished a whirlwind month of freelance work and was itching for a vacation. A few days on a lake sounded good to me!

My carpool of four departed NYC on Wednesday afternoon. To get to the Finger Lakes region, we drove through New Jersey and Pennsylvania before cutting back into New York. Once we left the city behind, the scenery was beautiful; green mountains framed the road near the Delaware Water Gap, and we rode past valleys and farmland once we were back in New York State.

It was pitch black by the time we drove through Watkins Glen and the other little towns close to our rented house. During the daytime, the bustling downtown strips convey that retro, 1950s-small-town-USA feel, but at night, the deserted streets were a little spooky. At a local convenience, we purchased a YuenglingВ 12-pack for $11 from a bearded guy in camo overalls — an undeniable reminder that we were hours away from NYC. (“I feel like we’re getting away with something…” one of my carpool members remarked.)

To get to the lake house, we had to turn off the main road and drive 15 minutes down a dirt road flanked by corn fields. All that was missing from this horror movie setting was a ax wielding psychopath jumping in front of our headlights. After a few harrowing wrong turns, we finally arrived at a row of houses perched along Seneca Lake.В 

I expected our rental to be nice, but I was surprised at how nice it was. The two-story house was bright, airy, immaculately clean, and fully stocked with kitchenware and pluffy towels. Two of the four bedrooms had fireplaces; the one Ryan and I shared didn’t, but it had cool mint walls, a high, white-paneled ceiling, and cute rustic signs advertising nautical attractions like “Yacht Club” and “Bait.” Despite the country-style decor, the place wasn’t lacking modern amenities: Every room had a flat-screen TV, and the entire house — plus the porch and private dock — were wired to a digital stereo system (which was perfect for blasting hours of MJ for a “memorial dance party” after we learned of the King of Pop’s death on Thursday afternoon).

I didn’t get to take in the beauty of our surroundings until the next morning. A brilliant blue sky and calm waters greeted me when I looked out the screen door. Every house near us had a private dock, and across the way, green hills loomed above the lake. The weather wasn’t very warm during our time there, and the water was way too cold for swimming, though I probably wouldn’t have spent much time in the water, anyway. (Seneca Lake is one of the deepest lakes in North American, and still bodies of water kind of creep me out — as in, who knows what’s lurking beneath the surface…) We spent most of our time on the dock.

Seneca2The house

Seneca3Our dock at dusk

Seneca1В View from the dock

Seneca4В Another view from the dock

Seneca6Sunset over Seneca Lake

On Friday, five of us peeled ourselves off the dock long enough to go wine tasting. Seneca Lake is home to 35 wineries, and the region is known for its whites. As we drove past vineyards on Route 14, we noted that many tasting rooms flew pink flags advertising Riesling.В 

We hit four wineries: Red Tail Ridge Winery, Anthony Road Wine Company, Prejean Winery, and Four Chimneys Organic Winery. Red Tail Ridge boasts a number of green initiatives (such as designing its vineyards to conserve water and soil), and Anthony Road had gorgeous grounds that overlooked Seneca Lake. But none of the wines at the first three wineries wowed me. I most impressed with the vinoВ and the ambience at our last stop.В 

DSCN2980Red Tail Ridge’s vineyard

DSCN2981Anthony Road’s tasting room

DSCN2984Anthony Road’s grounds

Four Chimneys, which opened in 1980, claims to be the first organic winery in North America. It had a much more cozy, less refined atmosphere than the previous wineries.В Its tasting room was set in an old barn that had rough-hewn wooden floors. Two friendly cats strolled around soliciting pets from tasters. (Any place with cute cats wins points with me.) And right after we arrived, a flash thunderstorm blew in, trapping us in the tasting room. Tough life, I know.

DSCN3006Four Chimneys Organic Winery

DSCN2998A slightly blurry shot of the Four Chimneys cats

We sampled several wines that bore playful names like Eye of the Bee (a grape flavored wine), First Love (a sweet white), and Raspberry Sunrise (a very sweet, fruity wine). I especially like the dry Kingdom Red and First Love.В 

After we made our purchases, we saw that the skies had cleared — perfect timing for driving back to the house and heading to the dock.

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