Friday, July 9, 2010

Mount Washington Cog Railway - New Hampshire's Most Breathtaking Scenic Vacation Experience

My family and I (me = 39, wife "holding at 29", 18, 17, 15, & 6) were thrilled to have my parents up for a vacation from North Carolina. Whenever they are visiting we always go and experience the best the region has to offer. On the most recent visit we chose to go experience the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

I had reserved our reservations over a month in advance for the cog. The day of our adventure to the summit of
Mt. Washington the weather was in the upper seventies, light wind but rain was in the forecast. We kept waffling on whether we should go or not and as a result we were running late for our reservations. We made it to the base station with less than five minutes to spare. We hustled through the station picked up our tickets and headed out to the historic Mount Washington Cog. My father, boys and I took time to inspect the pristine cog engine and historic train car. This was the perfect distraction for my father who is seriously not impressed with heights or the thought of riding anything to the top of a mountain. As we approached the cog's passenger car, we were greeted by two "brakemen". They happily accepted our tickets and smirked at several of us who wore shorts and flip flops. Their smirks were the equivalent of foreshadowing in a good book. We boarded and quickly realized that we were the only ones riding this late afternoon train to the summit. As the cog started the climb, one of the brakemen came in and introduced himself. He went on to share some interesting facts about the history of the Mount Washington Cog Railway and the construction of the scenic railroad. The ride itself is best described as slow and steady. The kids were encouraged to open windows, enjoy the sights and ask questions. The poor weather conditions helped keep grandpa's nerves in check as you could not see more than a few hundred feet in any direction. The cog railway was literally in the clouds shortly after leaving the base station. The brakeman pointed out that Mt. Washington proudly boasts to be "Home of the World's Worst Weather". He went on to say that Mt. Washington's summit temperatures this afternoon were in the low 40s with wind gusts exceeding 70 mph. Instantly, the brakemen's smirks reappeared. We appeared to be approximately halfway up Mt. Washington and I was pretty sure he was pulling our leg. He went on to say that the cog was going up today only because conditions were forecasted to stay the same or lessen. The cog railway will not climb Mount Washinton when wind conditions are exceeding 75mph. As we officially passed the halfway point of the mountain, I was still pretty sure the brakeman was "exaggerating". The winds remained mild, rain was light and the temperature didn't appear to have changed much. As the cog continued its Mount Washington climb, we left behind us the tree line where almost all plant life ceases to exist. No sooner did the trees disappear than I noticed the kids putting windows back up. The wind began to howl, temperatures plummeted, and rain/sleet beat on the cog. To clarify, having grown up in Miami, I've lived through enough hurricanes that I have lost count...the winds were screaming. Minutes later we came to a stop and the brakemen announced that we had reached the summit. We thanked and tipped the brakemen for their exceptional service. Upon exiting the cog's passenger car we were met with hurricane force winds, sleet and rain...all of which were going sideways and stung our skin. Flip flops and all, we quickly scurried into the Mount Washington observatory building. Inside we found bathrooms (the ride up is 40+ minutes long), two gift shops, a cafeteria offering "acceptable" quality food with fair pricing, and an interesting museum. Admission to the Mount Washington observatory museum is included in the price of riding the cog railway. I would not pay separately for the museum but enjoyed it none the less. The museum's highlight is a massive panoramic view from the summit showing what could be seen if a hurricane was not currently consuming the mountains summit. After a brief bite to eat, I ventured out with my two boys for a short walk to the observation platform. The boys delighted in the weather conditions and braved them long enough to climb the rock formation to the posted summit of Mt. Washington. We went back inside and were able to coax several more members outside and up to the platform. Experiencing weather conditions like that was both thrilling, entertaining and a highlight of the trip. We all gathered back together just in time to board the near capacity cog railway for the return trip to the base station. I sat in the first row of the cog's passenger car. On the way down Mt. Washington the brakeman earns his name. He stands vigilantly watching the cog's engine descend the mountain. Should the cog's multiple brake systems fail, the brakeman would manually be able to stop the car. I was interested to learn that the passenger car is and never was actually attached to the cog's engine. Both during the ascent and decent the passenger car is leaning against the engine. As we reached the halfway point of the mountain, the sky briefly cleared allowing for some beautiful scenic photos. I honestly cannot imagine how amazing the views would be on a perfectly clear day. My six year old loves foxes and was thrilled when we saw a family of them next to the railroad. We arrived safely back at the base station and took time to explore the hands-on museum and gift shop.

FINAL REVIEW: Everyone in our group LOVED the experience and rated the Mount Washington Cog Railway an absolute "do not miss". We all suggest to not let weather conditions determine whether or not you and your family ride the cog. While the observatory was nice...the crazy weather was the memorable factor. Be sure to bring and use a waterproof camera. Anyone that has a fear of heights should sit on the right side of the cog railway while climbing Mount Washington and on the left when coming back down. "Good ol'Grandpa" was fine and said sitting on the suggested side of the cog's passenger car was beneficial. All in all it was a great experience and we highly recommend adding a visit to Mt. Washington's summit to your northern New Hampshire or Vermont Vacation.

Only my
Hampton Inn, Littleton, New Hampshire offers a Mt. Washington Cog Railway vacation package. The cog is approximately 15 or 20 minutes from the hotel. If your vacation plans have you staying at one of my Vermont hotels (Comfort Inn & Suites or Fairbanks Inn, St. Johnsbury), the drive to the cog would be approximately 45 minutes. No matter which hotel you call home while on vacation, be sure to add the cog railway to your family trip.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hotels for Hope 2010

We had an amazing time this year at the Caledonian County Relay for Life event. This was the sixth anniversary for the fundraiser. I'm proud to say that our community has raised more than one million dollars in that period of time. Speaking of fellow team members of "Hotels for Hope" did an amazing job. They left the event having won one of only four awards that are issued annually. They earned and were awarded the "Team Spirit Award".

Everyone on our team took on different responsibilities. I was the lone chef cooking hundreds of hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausage. Some team members decorated our "fair themed" tents, others walked the track, some sold food and plush animals from our site, individuals volunteered to dress up and participate in the hourly themed walks, we had a team of runners at midnight that ran for an hour straight, etc. It was an amazing 24 hours for those that did it straight through. I was beyond exhausted the next morning as the sun came up. It was time to tear down and load up. I slept most of the day Sunday knowing that our team gave 110%. Everyone should be proud of their participation.

Speaking of proud, Gracie, my "just turned 6" year old didn't understand the concept of the midnight relay race. When the race began, she took off and didn't look back. For the the first lap or two, she ran by herself. By her third lap, she had befriended a young woman that was running individual laps. Around and around they went. Teams setup around the track started cheering them on. After nine laps, I finally stepped in and put an end to Grace's mini-marathon. Grace ran a total of 2.25 miles that evening. Prior to the midnight race, she had already walked countless laps. Needless to say, Grace slept well for several hours that night and most of the next day.

In the end we raised more than $5000 dollars as a team. Our goal for 2010 is to double that amount. A huge "THANK YOU" to all my team members and our amazing supporters!!!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hotels for Hope - June 12, 2010

In only our second year, we have DOUBLED the size of our Relay for Life team. We had approximately 30 employees participate in 2009. This coming year we are expecting more than 60 team members. To say I'm proud of my hotels' employees would be a huge understatement!

Hotels for Hope was founded in the memory of Mary Gistis. Mary lost a courageous battle with cancer in March of 2009. Her passing led to discussions at each of my hotels. Sadly, many of my managers and staff also had personal stories of loved ones that had succumbed to this dreaded disease. While we will always honor Mary's memory first and foremost, our Relay for Life team has evolved into a memorial for all of our loved ones that have passed. We also take time to be recognize and be thankful for our cancer survivors. Our surviors give us hope and confidence that a cure will be found.

I lost my first friend to cancer after completing the eighth grade. Shannon fought for more than a year before losing her tragic battle. At the ripe old age of twelve years old, I already understood the devastation that cancer can bring to a family and a community. I'll never forget her uncle speaking at our eighth grade graduation and announcing that Shannon's cancer had progressed and that the outcome was not expected to be good. I promised to never forget Shannon and all these years later, I've held true to my word. She was an amazing person and will always be missed.

Cancer has gone on to take multiple loved ones from me over the past twenty-five years. Unfortunately, this past year my family lost a friend and relative. By far, losing my grandmother was the hardest. Her unexpected passing led me to get early cancer screenings. These screenings have on two out of three occasions led to the doctors telling me "you may have just dodged a bullet". While these screenings are "less than pleasant", I know that they are in my best interest and I will get them regularly.
On the bright side, advancements in cancer treatment appear to have saved my children's incredible grandmother this past year. She is an amazing woman that continues the battle. Improving cancer treatments and the possibility of finding a cure are what Relay for Life is all about. I'm convinced many of my friends and loved ones would still be here today with the new tests, medicines, and technology that are available. These advancements in medicine and eventually finding a cure are why my team participates in the Relay for Life.

Please do your part and make a donation today...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

JAY PEAK - Four days of amazing spring skiing

This morning residents of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom woke up to 16+ inches of fresh snow and more coming later today. A week ago I was contemplating whether or not I should cut my lawn.

Watching the morning news I was shocked to hear that my friends at Jay Peak are reopening the mountain tomorrow and are closing for the season on Sunday. Temperatures are forcasted to be in the mid-seventies this weekend.

If you love to ski Jay Peak and want to take advantage of some incredible and reserve a $79.99 room today (SAVINGS OF $50 PER NIGHT!). Only $79.99 for one of our deluxe accommodations, hot breakfast, use of our indoor heated pool, whirlpool, sauna and fitness center.

Lift tickets for Jay Peak are not included in this discount. Jay Peak lift tickets must be purchased directly from the mountain for only $39 a piece.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kingdom Trails - 2010 Mountain Biking Season

I'm so pumped...Kingdom Trails is opening earlier than ever before. The warmer than usual conditions have allowed the trails to dry on Darling Hill. A trail maintenance day is scheduled for May 2nd. For those of you that ride Kingdom Trails regularly, it is a day to to give back, meet some great mountain bikers and improve the quality of the trails.

Kingdom Trails mountain biking day passes are only $10, season pass are available for $50 and if you have a family of mountain bikers you can get one season pass to cover the whole tribe for only $100. Kingdom Trails season ticket holders are entitled to amazing savings (discount of $30 - $40 per night) all season long at both the
Fairbanks Inn and Comfort Inn & Suites, St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Comfort Inn & Suites Kingdom Trails Season Pass Holder Discount $109 per night

Fairbanks Inn Kingdom Trails Season Pass Holder Discount $89 per night

2010 Foliage Season Rates:
Comfort Inn & Suites $159
Fairbanks Inn $139

You cannot beat the value...fresh air, great exercise, amazing views, and mountain biking trails that cater to every level of rider. Don't forget that Mother's day is coming right up...nothing makes mom more happy then bombing down Burke Mountain!!!

Comfort Inn and Suites, St. Johnsbury, Vermont

(802) 748-1500

2010 Kingdom Trails Mountain Biking Package

- Package includes two day passes to Kingdom Trails

- Overnight Accommodation

- Hot Complimentary Breakfast

Only $149.99 per night plus tax

Fairbanks Inn, St. Johnsbury, Vermont

(802) 748-5666

2010 Kingdom Trails Mountain Biking Package

- Package includes two day passes to Kingdom Trails

- Overnight Accommodation

Only $119.99 per night plus tax

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Everyday is "Earth Day" at the Comfort Inn & Suites, St. Johnsbury, Vermont

More than a year and a half ago, I decided to convert my St. Johnsbury, Vermont hotel into an eco-friendly green property. My decision to "do the right thing" was based on many factors. First and foremost, the hotel's guests regularly wrote comment cards requesting green alternatives. The quaint village of St. Johnsbury is located in the heart of the Vermont's Green Mountains and is the gateway to the majestic "Northeast Kingdom". I understood our guests holding us to a higher standard and expectation. Ultimately, we agreed that we should do our part to preserve the natural beauty of the land around us. It should be stated for the record...I was not a "tree hugger" (not that there is anything wrong with hugging a tree). I've owned a pair (or two) of Birkenstocks, but "treehugger" was not often used to describe me. Two years later, I have to admit that what started as a test project has become much more important to me. I was impressed when my team of managers and staff supported the initial concepts. One person's idea led to another and before long we were addicted to saving energy and implementing eco-friendly concepts. The hotel's guests have joined in and are encouraged to submit their suggestions (many of which we have adopted). People and businesses avoid going green because they think it will cost to much. The truth is by "doing what is right"...we've improved guest satisfaction as well as increased our profitability. Eighteen months later we have implemented more than a dozen significant eco-friendly initiatives (and we're still not done). In the process, we've received nothing but praise and appreciation from our guests. Our guests are not the only ones that took notice. Next month we will be receiving an award from Jim Douglas, the Governor of Vermont. The award recognizes our steps in becoming a green hotel.

The hotel is recognized for it's green initiatives by Choice Hotels,
Green Hotels in the Green Mountain State, and Below is a list of some of the steps we took to make the Comfort Inn & Suites, St. Johnsbury, Vermont one of the state's most green eco-friendly hotels.

- Joined “Clean the World”…we collect the partially used bars of soap and shampoo which are sanitized and then shipped to third world countries. Instead of clogging up our landfills...we are literally saving lives.
- Introduced “
Taterware” plates, bowls, forks, knives, and spoons…a 100% compostable product made from potatoes.
- Operate an extensive recycling program...a blue box in the bathroom allows guests to place all their recyclables into one bin...we do the rest.
- Energy efficient bulbs are used inside and outside the hotel
- Our linens are washed using eco-friendly ozone generators
- Switched from a bromine to a salt pool system
- Timers limit energy consumption for our ice machines, video arcade, and non-essential lighting

- Motion sensors control lighting throughout the building
- Use 35 - 100% post-consumer recycled paper
- We compost biodegradable material which naturally enriches the soil in our flower gardens
- Implemented a linen reuse program

We applaud Earth Day and what it stands for...we just wished people and businesses celebrated it 365 days a year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When a walk is more than just "a walk" - hiking in New Hampshire's White Mountains and Vermont's Green Mountains

There is something about walking in the woods of northern New Hampshire and Vermont that transcends the average jaunt into the countryside. Exploring the White Mountains of New Hampshire or the Green Mountains of Vermont can be rewarding on many levels. First and foremost, it's quiet...real quiet. I love that you never know what you will see or experience. I've heard about people practicing the art of walking meditation, I can't imagine it being much different than the hikes my boys and I take into our local mountains. From the first steps on to the trail, to summiting the mountain's crest, each step along the way is rewarding and an experience unto itself.

Just over a week ago, while we were experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures, my oldest son and I decided to go for a hike. I swear his obsession with the woods has been there since birth. He's grown up wanting to spend his life outdoors. Hiking, mountain biking, cycling, skiing, fishing, hunting or four wheeling...doesn't matter what the season...he's in the woods. Over the years, I've given him the responsibility of deciding where we are going and leading the way. At an early age he loved the responsibility of choosing our trail and being the "guide". In my book, "guide" translates to the person carrying the most amount of weight in their backpack. Personally, I loved the fact that I didn't have to think and someone else was in charge. Early on I decided we make a good team. For our first hike of the year, he chose an old favorite located in the White Mountain National Forest. We started the hike shortly after noon. Approximately two hours into into a 3+ hour climb, he stopped abrubtly and I ran square into his backpack. After blurting out some random "thoughts/suggestions", I saw what had him "hitting the brakes". Just off to our left in a marsh was a HUGE moose and her calf. Now I've seen moose before, most of the time they are grazing at sunset on the side of the New Hampshire and Vermont roads. Never had I been face to face with a moose in the wild. Fact #1...Moose are big (think "Clydesdale big" with funny skinny legs)! Only to make me more nervous was the fact that said moose was with it's baby. Fact #2...Mothers are protective! I should mention that every moose I had ever personally seen looked like they were posing for a postcard. The males were monstrous and always had amazingly large racks/antlers.

Well, one lesson learned that day is that moose are "scary ugly" in the spring. These were not "postcard moose". Fact #3...Moose are REALLY UGLY in the Spring. Both the mom and baby had survived the winter by growing a thick dense fur. Due to the warmer than usual weather, they were well into the the process of shedding their winter coats. The end result was two moose that looked like they were wearing camouflage. The mother was never aggressive and the calf never strayed more than ten feet from mom. They allowed us to sit on a rock and watch them for almost fifteen minutes before deciding to mosey on into to forest. It was an amazing experience.

If you are planning a vacation to my Hampton Inn, Littleton, New Hampshire or the Comfort Inn & Suites in St. Johnsbury, set aside a few hours to go hiking. Fact and your family will love the experience. No matter what trail you choose, you'll need good footwear and at minimum a small backpack for water, snacks, camera, etc. Please hike responsibly and make sure that whatever you bring in comes out with you..."leave no trace" is our family's motto when in the woods.

I'm proud to say that my son, Matthew who will be graduating high school next year is planning on a career in the great outdoors. He plans to attend college in pursuit of a game warden's job as his life's ambition. Who would have ever thought... we actually found a career in the woods (just wish I had been able to get a picture of it).

New Hampshire hikes closest to the Hampton Inn, Littleton, New Hampshire

Vermont hikes closest to the Comfort Inn & Suites or Fairbanks Inn, St. Johnsbury, Vermont