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On November 20, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s much-anticipated Art of the Americas Wing officially opened to the public, and locals and visitors can’t get enough. When I visited the museum last weekend, the galleries were packed with people and there was a line outside of those just waiting to buy tickets. The new 121,000-square-foot wing – a project five years in the making – displays 5,000 works from the MFA’s collection.
The new American galleries showcase everything from Native American crafts to Paul Revere silver to 20th-century Abstract paintings. Standout pieces include the extensive John Singer Sargent collection on level 2 and the enormous “Passage of the Delaware” by Thomas Sully. The first-floor galleries were specially designed to fit the latter painting (shown above), which measures over 12 feet in height; this is the first time the painting has been displayed in its original frame.
Those on the lookout for an affordable tropical getaway this winter might want to consider the brand-new Villa Del Palmar Cancun, opening this Christmas Eve. At the beachfront property in Playa Mujeres (25 minutes north of Cancun), all 150 rooms and suites feature superb ocean views, not to mention private balconies, kitchenettes, and spa tubs.
Also on offer are two swimming pools (one for adults only) with a pool butler, four hot tubs, and two poolside spa huts. Two restaurants serve Mexican and international cuisine, with sushi available at an outdoor lounge in the evenings; a beach bar will open in February 2011. A shuttle service provides transfers to Cancun’s downtown and the hotel zone.
The Chicago food scene is ready for its close-up. On Tuesday, Michelin introduced its first-ever guide to the Windy City, an endeavor two years in the making that encompasses 342 restaurants and 39 hotels. Chicago joins New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area as the only U.S. cities to attract the attention of the prestigious foodie standard.
Of course, the real buzz goes out to those select establishments that earned coveted Michelin stars. In the guide’s first go-around, just two restaurants – Alinea and L20 – garnered the highest rating of three stars. Three others – Avenues (pictured), Charlie Trotter’s, and Ria – took home two stars, and 18 earned one star each (among them ShermansTravel.com picks Sepia and Sixteen).
For comparison’s sake, as of the 2011 editions New York has 57 Michelin-starred restaurants and San Francisco has 44, the majority in both cities in the one-star category.
It’s not all about the impossible-to-get-a-reservation standard bearers, however. Diners on a budget can rejoice in Michelin’s 46 Bib Gourmand designations, announced last week, for restaurants that offer an exceptional three-course meal for $40 or less (before tax and tip). The guide also includes over 100 restaurants with meals for under $25.
For general trip-planning information, see our Chicago Travel Guide.
Move over, Andaz and Aloft – Marriott has finally rolled out its own boutique brand with the opening of the Waikiki Edition. Developed for Marriott by the one and only Ian Schrager (whose credits include the original Studio 54 and West Hollywood’s Mondrian Hotel), Edition hotels promise an individual feel and experience in jetset destinations around the world.
Though the Waikiki launch was a bit low-key – the official grand opening isn’t until October 15 – the hotel opened to guests last week. Eschewing the kitchy Hawaiian prints, the 353 rooms and suites provide perks like Frette linens, free Wi-Fi, and oversized showers. We’re particularly intrigued by the surfboard sculpture in the lobby (constructed from the broken boards of surfing greats like Kelly Slater and Christian Fletcher) and the secret lobby bar located behind a bookcase.
The shiny new Vdara (www.vdara.com) hotel in Las Vegas boasts a sleek, curved glass exterior. Is it architecturally impressive? Yes. Does the powerful desert sun reflect off the glass and into the pool area scorching hotel guests like ants under a magnifying glass? Uh, yes. The hotel’s architects did anticipate problems resulting from the intense glare that beams off the concave façade, and, as a precautionary measure, they draped a film over most of the building’s windows to counter the effect. Unfortunately, the film is no match against Nevada’s sizzling rays (or the “death ray” as hotel employees call it). Even with umbrellas and SPF, laying by the pool in one of the bona fide “hot spots” means you might walk away looking like a lobster. The “death ray” has reportedly melted plastic bags so you can imagine the effect it could have on human skin. Come to think of it, the cast of The Jersey Shore just might have found their heaven.
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Last week the Ritz-Carlton launched its highly anticipated loyalty program, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, for frequent-stay customers. Though loyalty programs have typically been the domain of airlines and mid-range hotel chains, the luxury brand is trying to attract business and leisure travelers to boost hotel occupancy. The high-end hotel business has suffered from the economic recession, and the Ritz-Carlton responded to customer feedback that indicated an increased demand for enticements.
This rewards program offers more than the usual complimentary stays and airline flights. The program will also allow members to redeem points for unique travel experiences such as personal shopping at Neiman Marcus stores or National Geographic Expeditions photography workshops.
The Ritz-Carlton is partnering with its parent company’s program, Marriott Rewards, so members of that program can now earn points and benefits at Ritz-Carlton Hotels. As of now, the hotel’s major competitor, the Four Seasons, has no plans to start a similar loyalty program.
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Gone are the days you had to set off to some obscure Central American rainforest to get your ziplining fix. Happily for adventurous American travelers, numerous ziplining operations have been cropping up across the country, with one of the newest – and the largest – of the bunch perfectly poised for leaf-peepers looking for a little extra kick with their fall rite of passage. New York Zipline Adventure Tours (www.ziplinenewyork.com) rolled out the first two phases of its three-prong operation at New York’s Hunter Mountain Ski Resort in the Catskills (one of our Top 10 Fall Foliage Travel Destinations), in early June, with the last – and most anticipated – of its courses scheduled to roll out by late December. Read more
In 2000 my wife and I took our first-born to a downtown San Diego warehouse that at the time was already the second home of the Children’s Museum/Museo de los Niños San Diego, which had first opened in La Jolla in 1983. The space had a low-key artsy feel, with local parents and visitors watching their children wander and draw. Our daughter and many other kids took particular delight in slapping thick strokes of paint on a truck that had seen better days.
I had heard that the museum had closed a couple years later and had lost track of it until my second-born and I pulled up a few weeks ago at the museum’s site at 200 West Island Avenue. We hadn’t expected to see an abandoned warehouse, as I had heard the museum had reopened in 2008. The warehouse was gone, but what was in its place was pretty unexpected: a large three-story building renamed The New Children’s Museum.
Already one of our airports worth the layover for its on-site art gallery and city excursions, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport ups the ante with what it claims is the first-ever airport library. Stocked with 1,100 books from the Dutch Public Libraries – as well as songs and films – the library presents a snapshot of Dutch culture for early arrivers or those just passing through on their way to another destination.
If you’ve got a few hours to kill at Schiphol, stop by the library to browse stellar examples of Dutch literature in 29 languages including Dutch, English, Spanish, and Chinese. A small selection of English- and Dutch-language songs, as well as videos in English and Dutch (with English subtitles), is also available. While the Schiphol library is intended for reference use only (you’ll have to leave that novel behind if you don’t finish), the songs and videos can be downloaded for free to cell phones.
Another perk to the library, which offers cozy spaces for reading and relaxing, is the chance to play around with one of nine iPads. The Schiphol library is located on the departure level in the airport’s “Holland Boulevard,” a showcase of Dutch food, art, and culture.
In a move that will doubtless spark controversy, last week local Minnesota officials approved $40.3 million in tax-free bonds to help fund a 12-story luxury hotel at the Mall of America, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The bonds come from part of the county’s stimulus package funds.
This type of funding is normally used to finance projects such as roads or subsidized housing, and some county officials questioned awarding the bonds to the hotel project. However, the county stands to lose the bonds if they aren’t doled out by the end of 2010. Moreover, the hotel only recently became eligible for the stimulus funding when the area around it was designated a “recovery zone,” meaning the area has a poverty rate of at least 20 percent or the median income is at or below 80 percent of the state’s median income. Revenue from the hotel will be used to repay the bonds.
The Mall has been trying to build the hotel for three years but stalled for lack of financing. The total cost for the hotel will be $130 million. Construction is expected to start by the end of 2010 and take two years. Potential partners include Starwood, Radisson, and Marriott.
Tell us what you think: should stimulus funds be used for projects like hotels?
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