Tarrytown House Estate

12 May

We had the pleasure of sneaking away up north for a little getaway from Manhattan earlier this July to the Tarrytown House Estate for a few days. Nestled amongst the towns of Tarrytown, Irvington, and Sleepy Hollow, The Tarrytown House Estate is charmingly historic and enchanting. Upon entering “the grounds” (anytime the resort area is referred to as “the grounds”, you know you just might be in for something special) it feels as though you have slipped into a different time… a time rich in simple beauty and 19th century elegance. There are many a motive for those seeking a little getaway, yet the rhyme and reason of the Tarrytown House Estate seems to be the indescribable relaxation it imparts upon its guests… and coming from downtown New York, the feeling was quite evident, cathartic even.

The Tarrytown House Estate resides on 26 acres gently situated in lush wilderness looking over the Hudson River valley. The estate consists of two 19th century Mansions (The King Mansion and The Biddle Mansion), a carriage house, cottage, and contemporary atrium. The grounds are quite spread out (elderly beware) with paths making its way through rolling hills, gardens, and statues (each with a story to tell) between the various facilities of the estate. The estate contains a recreation complex nearing the outskirts of the grounds, which offers an outdoor pool, indoor pool, large fitness center, sauna, jacuzzi, indoor racquetball court, outdoor tennis court, and various old-fashioned outdoor games- which I never thought I would participate in… needlessly to say I got lost in the moment, and enjoyed myself.

We were lucky enough to snag one of the best rooms in the resort, A balcony room in the King Mansion (built in 1840). In an estate offering over 200 rooms, only 10 or so are available in the King Mansion. King Mansion rooms boast incredible Georgian style charm, and balcony rooms  have a gorgeous view of the Hudson River and Sunset. The Balcony is as large as the room itself, and has outdoor furnishing including a wicker love seat, wooden rocking chairs, and table. Thankfully, the amenities were not circa 19th century: Flatscreen TV, plush bed, terry cloth bathrobes, and Wolfgang Puck coffee (that’s right, he makes coffee now).

Where Tarrytown House Estate really hits the mark is dining (If you don’t mind seeking elsewhere for lunch on weekdays). There is a breakfast buffet available (or a la carte room service), which is available for $15 a person if you prepay at check-in or $25 at the door. The buffet was delightful… having all the breakfast essentials yet also including smoked salmon, various artisanal jams (or they tasted like it), interesting selection of cream cheeses (including bacon cream cheese… whoa), as well as a station with a cook making custom omelettes  (who will also hook you up with fresh waffles). Breakfast is served on the ground level of the Biddle House Mansion, with a glassed-in terrace and patio overlooking the grounds… making for a gorgeous and enchanting breakfast.  Cellar 49 is the estate’s Restaurant, it is an upscale tavern, in the dungeon of the mansion. It looks as though it was artfully crafted right into the history of the mansion (and the history is rich), with rustic brick archways, distressed wood beans, tapestries, as well as contemporary furnishing twisted in… giving the Cellar 49 incredible ambiance. The food is spot on, having tavern (almost gastropub) styled small plates, and New American styled entrees. My favorite was the Wagyu Burger (using American Wagyu, a kobe styled beef using the traditional wagyu cattle that yields incredibly succulent beef) which you can choose to be done three different ways: Farmhouse cheddar and bacon, Maytag blue cheese and pear, or grilled portobello and gruyere (none of those choices seem wrong). I am normally not a fan of chicken, but at Cellar 49, they wrap it with bacon, stuff it with cornbread, and douse it in chorizo gravy…which I would have indulged in had I not been so persistent in trying every wagyu burger style available throughout my stay. The wine list is vast and filled with gems and rare & evasive wines. Long story short, Cellar 49 is special.

Finally, the location of the Tarrytown House Estate is remarkable. One has quick access to three historic towns: Downtown Tarrytown, Irvington, and Sleepy Hollow… all just a quick drive (or cheap cab ride) away. The towns are charming, historic, and interesting to “walk n’ shop” through, with various antique stores, artisanal food shops, and cool cafes… all with charming views of the Hudson River. If you fancy castles and estates…. Lyndhurst Castle, Kyuit (the Rockefeller Estate), and oh yea… Washington Irving’s house is just a stone’s throw away- about 3 blocks (writer of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”), all of which offer tours daily.

The staff was warm, gracious, and evidently proud to be a part of such a historic and wonderful hotel. Rooms Manager, Arkys (pronounced Ar-kiss) went out of his way helping and accommodating us… I recommend referring to him should you need anything.

Only a few negatives: High priced pay-per-view movies (as high as $16.99), No lunch on weekdays available (though one should take this opportunity to explore the culinary experiences of neighboring towns), limited spa services (they do have a massage room- in which appointments could be made with an outside company), breakfast buffet is only available for early birds, from 7am-9am (though this did prevent us from oversleeping and missing out on valuable hours of our little getaway- so days felt longer, which was nice), pool cabana bar only available on weekends, and no concierge (though the front desk is well versed in nearby activities and restaurants so maybe not all together necessary).

Visit the Tarrytown House Estate if you wish to indulge in pure relaxation and immerse yourself in beauty, charm, and history. If you are willing to fully embrace yourself in the serenity of this estate, I promise you will be enchanted.

Here is the website for more information: http://www.tarrytownhouseestate.com/

…This ‘Little Getaway’ is waiting for you.

Mike Markoff

4.5 Stars

 

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Pocono Palace

11 Jul

The Pocono Palace is an all-inclusive resort in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, roughly 90 miles west of New York City. It is one of three resorts in the Poconos owned by Cove Haven Entertainment Resorts, which also include Cove Haven and Paradise Stream. The resorts are spread throughout the Pocono Mountains and each carry the romance theme, yet in their own individual ways: Cove Haven is the ‘Intimate Couples Retreat’, Paradise Stream is the ‘Contemporary Couples Hot Spot’, and Pocono Palace is the ‘Intimate Couples Adventure Resort’. The resorts are all ‘couples only’, so read further only if you are married, in a relationship, or want to clumsily sweep your crush of their feet and steal them off to the ‘Land of Love’.

The three resorts are somewhat similar, and have almost exactly the same activities, facilities, and room types (with several exceptions). After careful deliberation (reading reviews, scanning through pictures, and measuring activities) my little lady and I chose the Pocono Palace. The basic breakdown in making this choice went like this: Cove Haven was the biggest, yet the oldest and potentially more run-down, Paradise Stream was the smallest, yet the newest but had little to do, and Pocono Palace was somewhere in the middle… yet it boasted the newest and best rooms… namely, The Roman Towers suites.

Upon driving through the wooded pathway to the resort, you first get a glimpse of what you are in store for with a defiant sign reading “Land of Love”…oh boy. The resort grounds were spread out, separated by a golf course, edged up to large lake on one side, and disintegrated into the woods on all other sides. The facilities are just a tad bit dated, but so is everything else in the Poconos… just driving through the town I would have guessed it was 1997, with the main indicator of the actual time being the gas prices. The range of ages of the couples walking about the resort was vast… from middle-aged couples attempting to light their fire, to old couples kicking back and enjoying each other’s company, to honeymooners from rural america who cannot believe their luck that their room has a flatscreen TV. The Love theme, if nothing else, is consistent… with restaurant names like Spooners Cafe, Flames of Passion, and Tanlines… and activities like the Naughty Newlywed Game, and X-rated Trivia.

We were able to get one of the Roman Towers Suites… only offered at Pocono Palace, and the best suite ($$$) of all 3 resorts. The room is gigantic… its two stories (technically 4 levels) has its own heart-shaped pool, sauna, massage table (with heat lamp), large living room with a fireplace, sofa, and Tv. The master bedroom was incredible, equipped with a King sized round blush bed, celestial ceiling (with stars scattered about), flatscreen mounted TV, and built-in stereo system. The bathroom is large, with his and her sinks, separate room for the toilet, and nice sized shower. Finally, the centerpiece of the room is a 12 foot tall champagne glass jacuzzi (intense), which actually ended up being quite comfortable. It made for an incredible little getaway with my little lady, for it truly was a getaway- we often did not need to leave the room.  This room truly was incredible. We asked to see the other rooms (which in the pictures looked very nice) and nothing comes even close. The Champagne Towers (which is supposed to be very similar to ours, yet smaller and less equipped) had the ambiance of a bowling alley, along with the rest of the rooms… which felt worn out, dated, and unkept… so do not be fooled by the fancy, well-taken pictures on the website, the only suite that holds true is The Roman Towers. Pocono Palace has roughly a dozen Roman Towers Suites, so if you decide to pick Pocono Palace for a little getaway, The Roman Towers is the only suite to choose (and it will probably be one of the best suites you will ever stay in). Furthermore, the other two resorts do not have the Roman Towers suite, so I highly reccomend Pocono Palace over Cove Haven and Paradise Stream.

The resort is nestled against a large lake, offering activities like boating, canoeing, and fishing (we went in early may so swimming wasn’t yet an option). They tagged 50 trout roaming about the lake- catching a tagged trout rewards the captor a cash prize or free night. I reunited with my inner fisherman, yet the fish weren’t digging what I was dishing… and those valuable trout proved most elusive. We went out on a row-boat… which was strenuous on the arms, but fun, romantic, and scenic. There is an outdoor pool, Indoor pool (like we needed it… we had our own), tanning booth (hey, why not), fitness center, and an entire upstairs level in the main facility devoted to mini golf and arcade games (watching a 64-year-old man getting his quarters stuck in ‘Time Crises 4’ was amusing). One also has the option of utilizing the activities facilities at the other 2 resorts (though they are both at least a 30 minute drive away). There also are daily and nightly activities hosted by resort staff… including gameshow type competitions where couple teams battle other couple teams for prizes like free nights (we got second place in a tournement against 16 other couples, which yielded a teddy bear).

In a word, the food could be better. As mentioned earlier, the resort is all-inclusive, yet does not include alcohol or lunch (there are several cafes serving lunch, yet it is simply meager fast food). For breakfast, you have the choice of breakfast in the main hall, or receiving breakfast in bed (which we opted for each morning) which is limited to egg sandwiches, cereal, coffee, and juice, it was delicious… but hardly resort-like. For Dinner, they offer a three course choose your own adventure meal… the general choice breakdown goes as follows: 1st course… Soup or Salad (though you can choose both at no extra charge), 2nd course… meat, fish, or pasta entrée, 3rd course… dessert of the day or a large sundae bar (or both). Choosing the right entrée is a difficult task, there is usually one moderately good one, while the other two taste like they came out of a diner. It became a game for me and my loved one, to see who could pick the entrée that wasn’t horrible. The interesting thing here is that this is in fact all-inclusive… so one could order all 3 if they really wanted to (yet that would be both embarrassing and a waste of food). The sundae bar was large and in charge, in that ‘Old Country Buffet’ kind of way… which I saw other couples intensely indulging in… I’d probably have trouble feeling sexy after that sundae bar excursion. I wasn’t expecting the food to be marvelous, it is an all-inclusive resort in the middle of border-line hick Pennsylvania… and it did seem like they were really trying (they put edible orchids on our wilted salad). Yet the average-ish food felt like it was a part of the experience (somehow) and didn’t turn us off really at all.

What I find to be the most interesting about this place, with of all its campy love tactics, truly made me focus constantly on my loved one. The place almost laughs at itself with its up-front corny lovey-ness, but at the end of the day, it is all about reminding you that if your loved one is next to you… there is no reason why you shouldn’t have your arm around her, whispering “I love you” in her ear.  I guarantee there is no place quite like this one- of course there are many couples only resorts… but none as shameless, proud, and determined to keep its 30 year long running reputation of being ‘The Land of Love’.

I recommend the Pocono Palace for a little getaway.

Mike Markoff

3.5 Stars

ALOFT Austin at the Domain

27 Jun

As a starwood preferred Gold member, I am always seeking to experience all the concepts Starwood offers (notably 9 distinct brands). Their newest installment is ALOFT… supposedly a younger, hipper, ultra-contemporary styled hotel brand that is more affordable than some of Starwood’s other brands.

I attempted to squeeze a little getaway out of my obligatory trip to Austin, Texas this past june, and found that Austin is an interesting city with distinct character and style. It is traditionally known for being a Music town, yet has evolved into an up and coming destination town for business, hospitality, and quality living. Vibrant streets filled with gourmet food trucks and bustling music venues… I’d have to say this town’s defining word is ‘cool’. My only worry is that with commerce and vast amount of people flocking there (almost exponentially), Austin may transform into the next Scottsdale… a large suburban heatbox void of classic style, evolving its citizens into Beverly Hills wannabes (check out the amount of plastic surgeon clinics in Scottsdale… or just take my word for it).

Unfortunately, ALOFT slowly reaffirms this prediction (which I sincerely hope won’t come to be), representing the falseness and fleeting nature of ingenuine glamour. ALOFT, at its best, is a less-than-half-assed poor man’s version of the W Hotels. It is akin to a hollywood set… looks good at first glance, yet step a little closer, and you realize it is all folly, a show… deceiving its patrons into believing they should pay extra for the ambiance.

The location of the ALOFT Austin is ‘scottsdale nice’, it is seated against “The Domain”, a newly built 21st century outdoor mall equipped with popular restaurant chains, top brand clothing stores, and an upper crust movie theater asking 20 plus bucks a ticket. It is as if the Domain was created as a chunk of ‘Garden of Scottsdale Eden’, in an attempt to undermine and essentially forget about what Austin is all about… real people, good tunes, delicious food served from a trailer on a paper plate, and rustic character that is unapologetic. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy elegance… but this place gives me an uneasy feeling that commerce (and its armies of shopping malls and falsely fancy hotel brands) will eventually destroy the charm of all American towns that begin showing promise.

The Domain and Aloft has successfully molested Austin. What a Shame. I award this hotel 1 star out of pity.. and my God have no mercy on their commercialized souls.

I recommend finding a hotel near South Congress if you want to really experience Austin for a little getaway.

Mike Markoff

1 Star